This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it on weekdays.
Online shopping has exploded during the pandemic. The holidays are approaching. What happens when these two forces collide?
The combination of our reliance on online shopping during a pandemic and our willingness to shop online during the holidays has led some ecommerce experts to predict a shipageddon in the US – delays and chaos as parcel companies are already thin , also affect an increase in vacation packages.
Retailers are sweating about how they'll get goods into their stores and handle the extra cost of delivering orders. And people who rely on home delivery may need to plan potential bottlenecks in advance.
The potential for hiccups shows the complications when our eagerness to shop from home hits the physical limits of humans, rafters-filled warehouses, roads, and ocean freighters. There has always been a war to bring things to our door. It's just one thing we usually ignore.
The problem is simple: the pandemic has radically changed a lot of our buying habits, and our delivery networks cannot keep up. You may have already experienced this with weeks of delays on some Amazon orders or waking up at 4 a.m. to get an open seat with a grocery shipping company.
Parcel companies like FedEx and UPS are already struggling to process additional orders each Christmas time and they expect Christmas 2020 to reach their limits. To prevent deliveries they cannot handle, the delivery companies announced higher than usual additional fees for larger retailers during the vacation.
The handy tips for people planning their vacation shopping: If you're the person waiting until the last minute, don't do it. Really.
When you shop online or send Christmas gifts to loved ones in the mail, it can take significantly longer than in previous years. The postal service almost asks people to send out Christmas presents early. (And if you rely on ecommerce websites for diapers or other essential household items, it's probably a good idea to build a buffer before possible year-end shipping delays.)
Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer for advertising giant Publicis, known by the nickname “Retail Geek,” also said retailers stocked fewer than usual during the holidays because the pandemic disrupted their typical inventory planning.
That means you probably won't get cheaper prices on Black Friday or the week leading up to Christmas as the stores won't discount goods that are already in short supply. If there is a particular gift that you have put your heart on, it may not be there if you wait.
People may also want to consider alternatives to home delivery for the vacation. For example, ordering online for in-store roadside collection will skip congested delivery systems. Retailers are also trying alternative delivery options, including sending orders from local stores through couriers that work for companies like Instacart and Shipt.
Scot Wingo, co-founder of ChannelAdvisor, which helps companies sell online, said companies like Target, which have both physical stores and do many home deliveries from their stores, don't rely as much on overwhelmed parcel companies. "That gives them an escape valve for Shipageddon," he said.
A silver lining in the potential vacation shopping drama is that it makes the invisible more visible. Just as the pandemic made me appreciate the work of grocers, healthcare workers, bus drivers, restaurant workers, and other sometimes overlooked people, it has also revealed the complexity of our shopping lives.
Those mouse clicks on Amazon or Target always started a chaotic ballet of warehouse workers, truck drivers, parcel delivery couriers and much more, but we mostly didn't think about it. The shipping delays this year might reveal the stresses at the seams, but they've always been there.
If you do not have this newsletter in your inbox yet, please register here.
Your head start
Ransomware is not your fault
After last week's newsletter about "ransomware" attacks, in which criminals freeze organizations' computer systems and demand payment to unlock them, some readers asked about ways to prevent these hacks.
Ken Gruberman in Altadena, California, told us that an orthopedic practice he used was banned from its computer system for months due to a ransomware attack:
“The attack was activated because a new employee clicked on a pop-up window that the thieves could enter. I have learned that in practice, IT staff have never created simple guidelines for all staff on what to do when they are presented with a fake popup. up, message, website or other anomaly. "
While I don't know what happened while doing this, ransomware attacks usually begin when someone in an organization clicks on an email attachment or web link that allows criminals to break into the computer network.
But the security expert I spoke to, Charles Carmakal of FireEye Mandiant, said attacks shouldn't be blamed on people who make a mistake. (Still, here are tips to help avoid falling for hackers on your work account or home computer.)
Just because criminals could break into someone's computer doesn't mean they can take over the company's entire network. Carmakal says it typically takes hackers days or weeks to gain access to the right parts of a company's computer network for a ransomware attack. This gives the organization many opportunities to spot the criminals and stop them.
According to Carmakal, the key is for organizations to think ahead and plan for potential attacks and invest in technology that can detect unusual computer activity. My colleague Brian X. Chen had useful advice for businesses in a 2017 column.
Yes, said Carmakal, it is important for employees to learn how to identify potentially malicious email or documents, but ransomware is never an individual's fault.
Before we go …
Facebook makes a lot of rules. It is more difficult to enforce. Facebook admitted it made a mistake by not deleting much of the Wall Street Journal flagged content that violated the company's policies on things like depicting violence and posting dangerous misinformation. Lots of people have trouble with Facebook trying to restrict online conversations – see this article by my colleagues – but the company is also often not responsive or subtle in deciding which material breaks its own rules.
Connected: The New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose says Facebook and Twitter are designed to limit the circulation of an unsubstantiated article about Joe Biden. This shows that “tech platforms have been monitoring our information diets for years, whether we have realized it or not”.
Here's something you guilty of about your inbox: The best way to avoid overcrowded online email and document accounts that you have to pay for more storage space is to regularly delete unwanted email, photos, songs, and digital files, says an author of Consumer Technology- Publication of medium. Find out how to do it. (Personally, I'll wallow in my messy online filing cabinets forever.)
Have you seen the "how it started … how it goes" meme? My colleague Sandra E. Garcia explains this internet phenomenon, which shows "the passage of time through oppositional bookends". It's also just plain fun. This is my favorite version of the meme.
Wilbur the pig can play soccer with his snout. Well, something like that.
We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you would like us to explore. You can reach us at [email protected]
If you do not have this newsletter in your inbox yet, please register here.