The Christmas crush this year will be more on people's front porches instead of department stores.
The change — on top of more everyday purchases going online because of the coronavirus pandemic — is putting unprecedented pressure on delivery companies and their workers.
"Our plants and our processing facilities are seeing historical numbers, and they are taking it as it comes," said Nicole Hill, local spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service. "A lot of people are choosing to stay home right now instead of going to big-box stores, and we are picking up a lot of this stuff right now."
Hill used to work as a carrier and hopes consumers understand that Twin Cities postal workers are doing their best.
For many postal carriers, delivery drivers and personal shoppers, this holiday is the busiest they have seen.
Postal Service carrier Jeff Pedro has delivered mail and packages in the east St. Paul neighborhood of Dayton's Bluff for 16 years and said he has delivered more holiday packages than any other year as well as a large increase in holiday greeting cards.
"Christmas is always busier," said Pedro, as he cut through front lawns on foot one recent cold morning on his route along Upper Afton Road. "The package volume always goes up — this year especially because of COVID. … I think a lot of people are sending cards this year because they can't get together."
Pedro, 49, has been starting his days about 30 minutes earlier in response to some of the added work. He also has been working overtime, usually clocking in from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and delivering each day of the week.
Shipt shopper Kris Beedle usually starts her workdays before the sun rises. Last week, she shopped the Target in West St. Paul for one of her regular customers grabbing groceries such as deli meat and oatmeal as she texted with updates.
"A lot of stuff this time of the year that people are shopping for is for the holidays, whether it's meals or people are shopping for stocking stuffers for their kids," she said.
During a break, Dom Fredianelli, a lead delivery driver for Amazon.com whose usual route is in downtown Minneapolis, said drivers tend to help each other during the holidays when volume increases, and some have worn Christmas lights and holiday masks on deliveries to get into the spirit.
"What do you call an Amazon driver during peak season?"
"Santa," Fredianelli, 33, joked.
The holiday season is the most important time of year for retailers, and this year has been especially hard as they try to enforce social distancing in stores and adapt to changing consumer habits.
Retail sales for November were down, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
That does not bode well for retailers. The federal report showed retailers seeing the steepest declines included electronics, appliances, clothing and department stores. Malls had already reported big declines in Black Friday traffic, usually the busiest day of the year.
But a bright spot — and the only big upward tick — was online sales, which increased 4% in November, continuing the climb seen throughout the year as customers were nervous about shopping in person during the pandemic (or restrictions closed some stores).
Retailers such as Minnesota-based Target and Best Buy shifted resources to meet the demand.
The holiday gifts being ordered online are in addition to the already increased volume, adding pressure for delivery personnel from numerous companies trying to quickly get packages to people in the last week before Christmas.
Recently, the Postal Service published an alert at the top of its website saying: "USPS is experiencing unprecedented volume increases and limited employee availability due to the impacts of COVID-19. We appreciate your patience and remain committed to delivering the holidays to you."
The Postal Service has come under criticism, though, that cuts made earlier in the year have contributed to the backlog.
Private express carriers also are facing challenges as volumes climb.
FedEx said this holiday season is the busiest it has ever experienced with peak shipping volumes projected to be up 22% year over year.
FedEx and UPS have taken drastic measures to control the flow, at one point temporarily stopping to take packages from some large retailers when shipments went beyond pre-agreed allotments.
FedEx and UPS also tried to steer more volume to weekends where there's more capacity.
Some retailers have moved up cutoff dates for guaranteed Christmas delivery.
"Early cutoffs are a positive development overall because transparency and truth override overpromising any day of the week," said retail analyst and consultant Carol Spieckerman, in an e-mail.
"Retailers are much better off proactively setting expectations rather than dashing them at the last minute or expecting shoppers to play guessing games."
Retailers have little control over the overwhelming package volume, but Spieckerman said they can choose wisely to overcommunicate with customers in regard to shipping status and offer alternatives. Delivery companies should do the same, she said.
Companies that deliver groceries — Instacart and Target-owned Shipt — are dealing with the last-minute demand for both gifts and essentials such as food.
"The biggest challenge especially right now is having items out of stock," Beedle, 43, said, after she had a Target employee look in the back for a certain dish detergent package.
It can take longer to complete an order as well because she and her colleagues have to wait in the same lines as other shoppers, she said.
Shipt workers, who are independent contractors, aren't paid by the hour so any time spent waiting in line or driving between orders is time not making money, she said. She hopes customers remember to tip them.
Kori Lee, 42, another Shipt worker who has shopped for the company for more than two years, said in some ways COVID-19 made it so that it has not been as crowded at stores.
She worked Black Friday, but there weren't many lines, and sales have been stretched out for longer periods of time.
She also feels a sense of purpose to her work.
"I feel like in this pandemic, I actually am helping people that can't get out to shop," Lee said.
Despite the challenges, Amazon's Fredianelli said customers have shown a greater appreciation for delivery workers leaving care packages of energy drinks and water at doors and sometimes making signs or waving from windows.
"It's super cool to see that kind of stuff," he said.
Includes reporting by the New York Times and Bloomberg News.