Chris O’Blenness is offering his Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Co. customers a 10% discount on orders placed by Monday, Nov. 30, with the code “xmas2020.”
It’s not that he needs to drum up holiday business. 2020 has already been his biggest year ever, he said last week. And even in normal years this is always a super busy season, with customers sending buffalo rib-eyes, elk tenderloins and other meaty treats all over the country.
What’s motivating him is the specter of shipping delays during a Christmas season in which already roaring e-commerce sales are expected to hit unprecedented levels and millions of Americans will be sending off packages instead of toting them on their holiday car and airplane trips.
The message from O’Blenness and other business owners, as well as the post office and shippers like Federal Express and UPS is: Mail your stuff early. Like now.
“In a perfect world we’d get all these packages out by first week of December,” O’Blenness said.
Incoming parcels need attention too. Jackson Hole residents who are ordering things to be delivered to themselves or expecting packages from friends and relatives should make sure their P.O. box numbers are on the labels, preferably next to their names.
“With COVID a lot of customers are ordering more online than ever,” said Geraldine Tiniacos, the U.S. Postal Service’s officer in charge of our area. “Our volume has really picked up.”
“We are doing the best we can to make sure their packages get delivered. Having their parcels with those P.O. boxes is fundamental.”
How much extra time packages might spend in transit between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year is a question mark.
“I don’t know, and it scares the c--- out of me,” said O’Blenness, who uses FedEx. “They have not given us any firm guidance. They’re just making clear we should be prepared for delays. … basically the 6th through the 25th.”
For a business like his that’s worrisome. If a box of meat lands on the doorstep thawed and no good, he said, he’ll have to “go to war” with the carrier and assuage the customer.
“That puts me in a really hard position,” he said. “I’m losing money because I’m reshipping and refunding.”
John Frechette, co-owner of Made, Mursell’s Sweet Shop, Mountain Dandy and M, is also encouraging his customers to get going on their holiday shopping and shipping whether they’re buying in person or online.
Shipping challenges have been an issue all year: “Stuff we’ve ordered from different makers — it’s all being delayed,” he said.
At least some customers have been paying attention to newspaper reports all over the country warning of “shipageddon” and “shipocalypse.”
From recent online sales on Made’s website — the kind where someone buys 15 stocking-stuffer-type items at once — Frechette can tell people are already buying holiday gifts.
“The national message is definitely reaching a fair amount of people,” Frechette said.
But there will be those who are unaware of the imperative to get on it now.
“We are trying to eliminate the ‘unsuspecting customer’ surprises,” he said. “We are trying to avoid that person calling on Christmas and saying, ‘I didn’t get my box.’ We are just telling customers they have to ship it earlier.”
Even if people plan to visit Made’s Gaslight Alley store and then hand-deliver their purchased gifts, there’s a good reason not to wait until the last minute to shop.
For health reasons, long Christmas Eve queues at the cash register won’t be possible this year, Frechette said.
“It gets nuts,” he said. “One year I opened a bag of pig candy and started walking down a line of 15 people saying, “Want some?’”
This year “we are going to have to come up with some strategies to spread people out.”
One is changing holiday season hours from 9 to 9 to entice “people on a mission” to come early or late. He’s also considering appointments and using velvet ropes at the door for crowd control.
Meanwhile the Postal Service and shipping industry are doing what they can to prepare for what a Federal Express spokeswoman described as “The Shipathon.”
UPS said it would add 100,000 workers this season, for example, and Federal Express announced it would hire 70,000. Tiniacos said the Postal Service is bringing on seasonal employees in Salt Lake and adding package delivery lockers at Jackson Hole post offices.
But still, the early birds will get the worm.
“As we prepare for unprecedented levels of shopping and shipping this holiday season, we strongly encourage all customers planning on shopping online to shop early, ship early,” the Federal Express employee emailed.
“UPS is preparing for a record holiday season, but isn’t making specific projections,” a corporate spokeswoman emailed. “But, yes, UPS does recommend that customers get their packages in earlier this year.”
Tiniacos said customers should be aware that due to the pandemic and staff shortage, expected delivery times had already lengthened. Priority, for example, takes three to five days versus one to three previously. First Class, formerly one to five days, may take up to 10.
“This season we ask that they please be patient with us,” Tiniacos said.