PIERRE, S.D. – Truckers who now take delivery of products from large retailers have a warning for anyone planning to shop for holiday gifts in their delivery area: Be ready for another huge, record-breaking crush of gifts.
Last year, it took truckers an average of three days to bring holiday shipments from warehouses to store shelves, and this year’s crush could run even higher, according to the American Trucking Associations.
In fact, the forecast calls for a pre-holiday shopping season that is “definitely higher than average,” and could break records.
“We don’t think the deliveries are any less than what we saw last year, it’s just that the season is already upon us,” said Don Lingerfelt, CEO of the ATA’s Transportation Planning Council.
Customers can already tell that their holiday plans are being slowed by the reduced-capacity of retail supply chains, which have struggled in recent years to keep pace with increased online shopping.
Truckers will be operating at close to a 50 percent lower utilization this holiday season than they did last year, even if the volume of shipments as a whole is down, said John Nicolini, assistant vice president of finance and sustainability for the ATA.
But retailers are eager to ramp up that capacity in order to get more products to customers earlier this year, he said. That’s because some retailers are already running delivery truck fleets to full capacity.
“This season will be a very busy one, there’s no doubt about it,” Nicolini said.
Randy Lundegeal of Lundegeal Logistics has been watching holiday deliveries in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market for the past few years. His trucking company specializes in goods heading west and his main customers are Target and Walmart.
This year, he’s expecting no different, and will be contacting stores in case they decide to “warehouse some volume.”
“My heart’s in it,” he said. “We’re hoping they get to a spot that they haven’t seen before.”
For truckers who have been working or preparing for hundreds of package deliveries a day for weeks, the congestion could soon be inescapable.
“I could be so busy that I don’t stop for anything in a week,” said Joan Joppa, a driver for J.M. Lunder & Co. Inc.
Customers of smaller local shippers like Joppa won’t see big delivery changes for the holidays. And truckers working for the bigger national shippers that operate out of South Dakota won’t see many changes at all.
Still, the holiday shipments are already causing problems in the city itself.
The city’s warehouses and loading docks have become so backed up with oversized cargo that they are struggling to stay open or moving anything out of the way.
Both the city of Pierre and the City of Mitchell have commissioned experts to study solutions to alleviate the bottleneck, and one engineer even produced a video of a city vehicle running over an empty concrete shipping pallet to demonstrate how difficult it can be.
The drivers often wait up to three hours to deliver one shipment, and the trucks inside also don’t make it to destinations in the city limits until several hours later.
Meanwhile, shoppers waiting in line for their shopping trips have a similar experience.
“Everybody’s fighting to get where they need to go,” Joppa said.