- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (AP) Deep discounts driving merchandise off store shelves this month could lead to a busier-than-usual shipping rush to restock the shelves next month, analysts say.
Major shippers such as United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. are prepared for a shorter holiday shipping season: 17 instead of 21 regular shipping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. But it's what happens after the holidays that could catch them by surprise, analysts say.
"The retailers decided even if they're not going to have a good period for profits, they're going to have a good period for volume," said Thom Albrecht, an analyst with BB&T; Capital Markets, a unit of Scott & Stringfellow Inc. in Richmond. "What may end up happening is January and early February may be a little bit better than normal. Inventories were fairly lean coming into the holiday season."
Atlanta-based UPS and Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx expect Dec. 19 to be their peak holiday delivery day; UPS plans to deliver 19 million packages, FedEx 5 million. The companies are bringing in part-time seasonal workers to help; at UPS that is 60,000 extra people.
Beyond the holiday, the companies are taking a wait-and-see approach.
"We're pretty much gearing up just for our peak season at this point," said FedEx spokeswoman Pam Roberson. "After the season, if there is a need for us to be in a peak mode, we will continue to do whatever it takes to serve the customers."
To make things go more smoothly, shipping companies are encouraging customers to use their Web sites to create address labels and pay shipping costs to eliminate the time they would have to stand in line. The packages can be dropped off at hundreds of facilities around the country, or customers can schedule to have them picked up, for a fee in some cases.
The companies are also reminding people that there are fewer shipping days during the holiday season this year. Take UPS driver Vic Kimble, for example.
"He always tells me to go early," said Ben Matheison, a retired New York City police detective, as Mr. Kimble delivered a package to his home last week in Alpharetta, 30 miles north of Atlanta.
Mr. Matheison said clothes, toiletries and other gifts he and his wife have bought for friends and relatives have already been sent.
Mr. Kimble, who has been with UPS for 26 years, said more snow in the Northeast could delay shipments sent by air.
"Everybody wants to know if we are behind. I tell them the volume will not put us behind," Mr. Kimble said. "Only the weather will put us behind."
Stan Agee, a senior UPS sales executive, said weather is always a wild card but that he believes UPS is well-prepared for any situation.
The company has been closely monitoring retail sales patterns in recent weeks to prepare for the peak holiday shipping period. UPS also has been focusing on its Internet shipping option.
"Many people are picking up their Christmas gifts now," Mr. Agee said. "The light is now on that if they don't have their shipments in the system in time, their family and friends won't have them on Christmas."
The effort seems to be working, with 92 percent of packages this season coming to UPS facilities pre-labeled.
There are also indications that more people are buying gifts online because of discounts being offered on shipping. Seattle-based Amazon.com, for instance, is offering free shipping through today on some holiday orders, depending on the price.
A survey done for the online shopping site found that 51 percent of Americans say they are looking for lower prices this holiday season, while 32 percent are looking for more value, such as free shipping or bonus products. Cell phones, DVDs and kitchenware are selling particularly fast.

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