DALLAS (AP) — Facing an even bigger mountain of packages this holiday season, FedEx and UPS are hiring more workers to avoid the delays that frustrated shoppers and gift-recipients a year ago.
Last December, the delivery giants were caught off-guard by bad weather and a surge in last-minute online shopping. An estimated 2 million packages were late at Christmas.
On Wednesday, FedEx Corp. said it expects deliveries between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve to rise 8.8 percent over last year, to 290 million shipments. Volume is expected to surge on each of the first three Mondays in December, with FedEx predicting a peak of 22.6 million shipments on Monday, Dec. 15.
The delivery companies and Internet retailers are benefiting from a strengthening economy and optimism about consumer spending. At the same time, they're dealing with consumers who increasingly enjoy the ease of shopping on computers and mobile devices but expect the goods to show up almost as quickly as if they had shopped at a store. That expectation is often fed by online retailers, who hold out the promise of free delivery until right before Christmas.
About 1.3 million express packages handled by UPS and 618,000 carried by FedEx failed to get delivered on time last Christmas Eve, according to ShipMatrix Inc., which makes software for shipment tracking. The firm's president, Satish Jindel, said UPS and FedEx were at fault only 30 percent of the time.
In most cases, retailers promised guaranteed express delivery but tried to save money and didn't pay the delivery companies for that speedier service, Jindel said.
The merchants face tough competition for consumers who base purchases first on price, and second on free shipping, and the faster the better.
"Every single year the percentage of retailers offering free shipping goes up," said Vicki Cantrell, senior vice president at the National Retail Federation. "The consumer expects it. The retailer may or may not be able to afford it."
Target Corp. has started offering free holiday shipping for any item on its website, a first for the retailer as it tries to compete better against online rivals such as Amazon.com Inc. The timing of the offer was stunning — weeks before the unofficial kickoff of holiday shopping.
Cantrell said Target, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other retailers are getting better at the shipping game. They will ship items from stores instead of a central warehouse if that is faster, or tell online customers when the product they want can be picked up at a store near their home. Those strategies could relieve pressure on the delivery companies and satisfy the shopper more quickly.
The retail federation's online division, Shop.org, predicts that online sales in November and December will rise 8 to 11 percent over last year. To meet that demand, online retailers such as Amazon and the delivery companies are hiring more.
FedEx plans to hire 50,000 seasonal workers, up from 40,000 last year. United Parcel Service Inc. says it will add up to 95,000 people, up from 85,000. Last year, both companies wound up scrambling to hire more seasonal employees than they had planned, which increased costs and cut into profits.
FedEx also expects to invest $1.2 billion in its ground-shipping network in its current fiscal year, with most of that going to increase capacity and automation. The company said that the improvements have sped up ground delivery by a day or more in more than two-thirds of the U.S.
UPS has also invested to boost shipping capacity during the holidays, said the company's chief commercial officer, Alan Gershenhorn. He said that UPS had improved it forecasting and package tracking. UPS has not issued a holiday forecast.
Shares of FedEx fell $1.41 to $158.47; UPS shares fell $1.69 to $99.06.
DETROIT (AP) — The U.S. government is now urging owners of nearly 8 million cars and trucks to have the air bags repaired because of potential danger to drivers and passengers. But the effort is being complicated by confusing information and a malfunctioning website.
The government's auto-safety agency says that inflator mechanisms in the air bags can rupture, causing metal fragments to fly out when the bags are deployed. The inflators are made by Japanese parts supplier Takata Corp.
Safety advocates say at least four people have died from the problem, which they claim could affect more than 20 million cars nationwide. On Wednesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration added 3.1 million vehicles to an initial warning covering 4.7 million cars and SUVs.
Car owners might have difficulty determining if their vehicle is equipped with the potentially dangerous air bags. The warning covers certain models made by BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota.
Most of the 7.8 million vehicles are subject to existing recalls. But manufacturers have limited the recalls to high-humidity areas, excluding cars and trucks in states to the north. NHTSA says owners in Florida, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and "limited areas near the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana" should pay special attention to the warning.
Worse yet, the regulatory agency has twice corrected the number of vehicles affected and acknowledged that a list it released Monday wasn't completely accurate. The agency urged people to use its website to see if their cars are affected — but a feature allowing people to check for recalls by vehicle identification number malfunctioned Monday night and still wasn't operational Wednesday.
Automakers have been recalling cars to fix the problem for several years, but neither Takata nor NHTSA have identified a firm cause. The agency opened a formal investigation into the problem in June, and a theory put forth in agency documents suggests the chemical used to inflate the air bag can be altered by high humidity, making it explode with too much force while deploying.
"It's in a total state of uproar right now," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader.
The problem also is drawing attention from Congress. Staff members for the House Energy and Commerce Committee have asked NHTSA to brief them on the Takata air bags. They also plan to meet with automakers, a committee spokeswoman said.
NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said in a statement that car owners should respond to the recalls to stay safe. The agency, he said, is tracking down the "full geographic scope" of the issue.
Kathryn Henry, a spokeswoman for the agency, said it is unclear whether a high number of inquiries caused its website to malfunction. Until it's repaired, she urged car owners to go to manufacturer websites or call dealers.
General Motors, which sold two models with the faulty air bags, planned to notify about 10,000 customers by overnight mail. The models covered are 2003 to 2005 Pontiac Vibes in high humidity areas and Saab 9-2X models. The cars were made by other manufacturers — the Vibes by Toyota, and the Saabs by Subaru.
The rare warning by regulators comes three weeks after a Sept. 29 crash near Orlando, Florida, that claimed the life Hien Thi Tran, who suffered severe neck wounds that investigators said could have been caused by metal fragments flying out of the air bag on her 2001 Honda Accord. Her Accord was among the models being recalled.
One police agency concluded that the air bags caused her wounds, while another is still investigating. NHTSA is seeking information.
On Monday, Toyota issued a recall covering passenger air bags in 247,000 older model vehicles including the Lexus SC, Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia and Tundra. Like many earlier recalls, Toyota's recall covers vehicles only in areas that have high absolute humidity. GM and Toyota each told customers not to let anyone sit in the front passenger seat until repairs are made.
Toyota said it's working with Takata to pinpoint the cause of the rupture and to gauge the influence of high absolute humidity, which is a measurement of water vapor in the air.
Ever stand at a cashier fumbling through your overstuffed wallet for the right credit, debit or loyalty card? An end to the frustration may be on its way, according to Consumer Reports.For several years, a number of companies have been trying to get you to input the details of your payment cards into a “mobile wallet” — an app that is stored in your smartphone. Then you can make a payment from the card of your choice and even accrue applicable loyalty points simply by waving your smartphone over a card terminal.Problem is, there haven’t been many merchants that can actually read the data stored inside mobile wallets. Google Wallet, which was introduced in 2011, and Isis Wallet, backed by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless and launched nationwide in 2013, require merchants to have or buy equipment that includes a technology known as near field communication, which has not yet been widely adopted. As a result, Google Wallet and Isis Wallet work at only about 200,000 U.S. merchants compared with 12 to 15 million that take plastic.But now a new player, LoopWallet, launched in February, uses magnetic pulse technology that allows its mobile wallet to work with 90 percent of existing card readers. That might be enough critical mass for the technology to become a viable option. However, a lot of pieces still have to come together for mobile wallet technology. Allied Market Research, based in Portland, Oregon, projects that mobile payments will grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 127.5 percent, reaching a global market size of more than $5 trillion by 2020.Should you consider making the switch to LoopWallet or one of the others? Here’s what Consumer Reports says to consider:• The benefit. More smartphone owners are finding that their handsets are a convenient payment device, with 30 percent using them to make online purchases, 24 percent to pay bills and 17 percent to pay for store purchases, according to a recent Federal Reserve study. Mobile wallets provide one more payment option in today’s cell-savvy world.