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An Unlikely Star of the Holiday-Shipping Season: The U.S. Postal Service
By Devin Leonard
December 30, 2013 1:52 PM EST
Photograph by Stephen Lam/Getty Imageso A U.S. Postal Service worker moving mail at the San Francisco Processing and Distribution Center on Dec. 16

There was a lot of post-Christmas discussion about how  UPS fumbled its last-minute holiday deliveries, and  FedEx apologized for some late-arriving packages, too. What went largely unmentioned, however, was that the stellar performance of the U.S. Postal Service.

The government-run competitor was swamped with parcels just like UPS and FedEx were, with holiday package volume 19 percent higher than the same period late year. But there were no widespread complaints about tardy deliveries by USPS.

The postal service attributes its success to meticulous planning. The agency says it noticed “higher than expected volume” in packages in early December and made adjustments to avoid delays, delivering packages on the three Sundays before Christmas in its busiest markets. Sue Brennan, a USPS spokeswoman, says this was in addition to regularly scheduled Sunday deliveries for Amazon. The USPS also delivered 75,000 packages on Christmas Day.

The USPS and its private-sector rivals have different business models. Unlike the government-operated service, the two private companies have fleets of airplanes and are better known for urgent deliveries than the USPS is. That’s what apparently got them into trouble. According to CNN, UPS ended up needing to make more holiday season air shipments than it had anticipated. FedEx says 99 percent of its ground shipments arrived on schedule but hasn’t provided information about its airborne parcels, Bloomberg News reports.

Two things could happen as a result of UPS and FedEx’s difficulties: People might order  earlier next year so presents don’t have to be travel by plane, and big retailers such as  Amazon, a major UPS customer, might look for more ways to move packages on the ground. Either outcome will probably benefit USPS. The postal service may not be celebrated for speed, but when it comes to getting stuff to people on time in the holidays, the 238-year-old agency is tough to beat.

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