Our supply system collapses


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Our online delivery system has reached its limits and that is a burden for retailers and shoppers this holiday season.

My colleague Sapna Maheshwari recently co-wrote an article about retailers and delivery companies struggling with the double blow of e-commerce and online shopping over the Christmas season. This causes some online orders to be delayed, more expensive, or both.

Sapna spoke to me about this “Shipageddon” and how the performance of UPS and FedEx and our demand for free shipping are adding to the burden.

Shira: What did you learn from talking to businesses and shipping companies about online vacation ordering?

Sapna: I was impressed by the panic and frustration of retailers.

One apparel and apparel retailer said it felt squeezed on two sides. UPS charges an additional fee for its vacation deliveries – several dollars per package, which is often a concern for clothes or shoes. The retailer is even removing some heavily discounted items from their website as with the shipping surcharge they assumed they would lose money if someone only bought that item.

And UPS has set a daily limit on the number of Christmas orders to be picked up. The retailer fears that he cannot sell as many goods as people want to buy.

Are higher shipping costs just a burden for retailers or are they filtering to higher prices for us?

Possibly both. It does this because, regardless of the shipping cost, buyers don't expect to pay for it. That's the influence of Amazon. But these issues crop up somewhere. This could mean higher product prices for you and me. This could result in lower profits for the businesses.

Every holiday season you will see vans filled with packages. Is it really worse this year?

Certainly. An increase in shipping over the Christmas period always puts a strain on the shipping companies, but this year the increase started when the pandemic broke out in March and didn't stop, as one of our readers also pointed out.

As buyers, we have seen the stresses in the supply chain more than before. It's good.

Where are the throttling points in the system?

One of the things I learned from this report is how powerful UPS and FedEx are and how fast they are growing. These companies – more so than the postal service – are the dominant delivery partners for most retail chains. Therefore, it is important to understand how they deal with order demand, capacity, manpower and customer relationships.

Are people really not getting delivered in time for Christmas?

Many merchant websites warn customers to order now or deliveries won't arrive by Christmas. I'm not even sure if these estimated delivery dates are feasible. I ordered some items on Black Friday and I haven't received most of them. The estimated shipping times are always delayed. Many readers have said the same thing.

What is your advice to buyers?

If there is a chance that you can shop in stores or collect online orders in person, you can have peace of mind and potentially receive a discount. Some retailers offer incentives to collect items in or out of stores.

You can also consider small businesses in your area. Or give your local store or chain a call and see if they have what you want and find a shopping method that you are comfortable with – maybe order over the phone and arrange a remote collection from the store.

Economy & Economy


Dec. 11, 2020, 6:16 p.m. ET

I'll leave it to my colleague Brian X. Chen to tell you which personal tech products are worth your money. But I like to explain the motives behind products.

Apple announced Tuesday that it will soon be selling a new line of wireless over-the-ear headphones, which are siblings of the company's in-ear AirPods. The new AirPods Max are priced at $ 549 and come with a carrying case that looks like a small wallet. (Warning: don't rely on them to get shipped in time for Christmas.)

Two things are important to understand this Apple product. First, it costs at least $ 150 more than most comparable headphones, as Apple knows people will pay $ 549. You have to do Apple the credit of generating so much loyalty that it's one of the few electronics companies that can (usually) charge much higher prices than its peers, and it works.

The second point is that Apple is now releasing more new products than ever because they are vulnerable. The company's fortunes are tied to its star, the iPhone, and the world is simply buying fewer smartphones than in previous years. That's likely a permanent change.

Apple sells many other products, of course, but the iPhone is the sun that many of the company's other products revolve around. People who own an iPhone are more likely to buy AirPods, an Apple Fitness or Music subscription, an Apple Watch, or a HomePod speaker.

As people buy fewer new iPhones, one strategy to fill that void is to sell more products to Apple's customer base. In general, if you buy three Apple products instead of one, the company is better off. A great way to achieve this goal is for Apple to bring more products to people.

It's fair to expect more new product categories from Apple. Remember, Apple isn't just doing this to make people happy. It introduces new products because it has to.

The Cyber ​​Defenders Have Been Hacked: FireEye, which protects companies and governments from cyber attacks, was hacked even by likely Russian intelligence agencies. David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth wrote that the culprits got away with FireEye's cybersecurity tools that the company previously used to track down Russian hackers.

A harrowing example of technology to aid government surveillance: The Chinese tech giant Huawei worked with a facial recognition startup to test a camera system that could scan faces in a crowd and estimate the age, gender, and ethnicity of each person, the Washington Post reported. The 2018 corporate test was also set up to send "Uighur alerts" to flag members of the mostly Muslim minority at Chinese government agencies.

If you enjoy reading scathing reviews … Examining the apparently inaccurate body fat calculations he'd received from his Amazon Halo health and wellness bracelet, Brian X. Chen asked a simple question: "What on earth was Amazon thinking of bringing out a product like this now?" Kara Swisher, one contributing writer for the New York Times, found the Halo overly creepy as well.

Please enjoy TV chef Nigella Lawson pronouncing the word "microwave" in the chicest possible way. I love it so much.

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