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Shipping delays expected as holiday gift returns surge

Shipping companies are bracing for a second surge of packages to flood mail systems as customers return holiday gifts.

LANCASTER, Pa. — Shipping companies are bracing for a second surge of packages to flood mail systems as the season of giving ends and the season of returning begins.

Online shopping hit a record high this holiday season, rising 35.8 percent since 2019 to a total of $190.47 billion, according to market research company Insider Intelligence.

“Ever since the pandemic started in March we have been extremely busy with shipping, but obviously with the Christmas season it has been even busier than normal for us,” said Andrea Samples, franchise owner of the UPS Store Shrewsbury.

Shipping delays and system capacity overloads were reported at all major carriers, including DHL, FedEx, UPS and USPS.

“I’m kind of disappointed to be very honest with you. There were some packages that I never received and still I have not received them. I’m kind of sad,” said Elsie Candelaria, a resident of Manheim Township who said she had also mailed her relatives a package of homemade cookies through USPS that never arrived.

Holiday gift returns usually start the day after Christmas and continue into the first week of January.

The National Retail Federation expects 13 percent of gifts bought during the 2020 holiday season will be returned, or $101 billion worth of goods, according to an NRF and Appriss Retail survey.

Carriers are now bracing for another surge.

“It has to do with over-maxxing their system,” Samples said. “Plus I’ve also heard that there are locations where COVID has run rampant through their system, so they’re down personnel.”

Customers should be prepared to wait longer this year for refunds, retail experts said.

“Just like we experienced shipping delays with getting your gifts to you, getting your gifts back to the place where they need to go for returns might take a little bit longer than expected,” said Sara Skirboll, shopping expert at RetailMeNot.

Many retailers are trying to cut down on return time and reduce in-person return interactions with new policies.

Target is accepting free returns through FedEx and UPS, while Walmart has launched a program for FedEx to pick up returns from customers’ homes.

Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Nordstrom are offering curbside return.

Macy’s and Amazon have extended their return windows.

Return policies vary by retailer and store, so customers are recommended to check the return policy of their item before returning it.