How do supply chain management experts FedEx and UPS prepare for the holiday season? For UPS and FedEx, the month of December is the busiest time of the year. How, though, do they deliver millions of packages across the globe without losing track of them?

It's not easy.

Retailers across the U.S. are endeavoring to attract customers to their ecommerce sites as they work to drive sales. The initiatives are paying off, as online sales have surged year-over-year. According to data from research firm comScore, through the first 42 days of the November to December shopping period this year, online sales have risen 15 percent from 2010, hitting $26.8 billion.

The surge in online orders is positive news for both retail chains and shipping companies. The Los Angeles Times reports that logistics giants FedEx and UPS are weathering the surge in orders, with the former experiencing its busiest day of the year on Monday. FedEx crews moved an estimated 17 million packages in the U.S. on that day alone, according to the company.

Ensuring prompt and accurate deliveries requires nothing short of operational nirvana. At Los Angeles International Airport, the FedEx worldwide shipping hub, the company employs hundreds of employees to handle and process packages on miles upon miles of conveyor belts. FedEx is an innovator in its supply chain management, as the firm's sweeping logistics chain is a striking example of procurement best practices.

On Monday at 1 a.m., 12 FedEx cargo planes filled to the brim with packages sat idle at LAX. Crews were poised to unload the planes, which are mostly Boeing MD 10s and Airbuses, according to the LA Times, before the parcels would move onward in the company's sweeping supply chain. FedEx employees immediately worked to unload the carriers, which contained sealed steel shipping containers that awaited further delineation in the company's sorting warehouse.

Workers rapidly unloaded the individual packages from their steel cases, shifting them onto conveyor belts that directed them to varying packaging stations through Los Angeles county. Each year, FedEx and UPS hire thousands of temporary workers in an effort to more effectively handle the onslaught, and FedEx took on an additional 20,000 employees this year.

FedEx officials project the company to ship more than 260 million packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which represents a 12 percent uptick from 2010. To process the millions of boxes, FedEx separates employees into groups tasked with individual duties. For example, some employees work specifically to investigate where packages containing no address labels should be directed, while others unload planes and trucks.

UPS features a similarly expansive supply chain, as the company hired an additional 55,000 workers for the holiday season, according to Mainline Media News. The peak shipping date for UPS will fall on December 22, when the company expects to deliver more than 26 million packages across the globe.

"This is a special time of year for us," UPS spokeswoman Rebecca Treacy-Lenda said. "We take our role of Santa very seriously. It's all hands on deck. We know the importance of all the packages we deliver."

To ensure they do not misplace even a single package, FedEx and UPS invest heavily in advanced technological monitoring devices. Such systems help FedEx not only to track boxes, but also to measure them. This enables the company to leave no space unused when loading packages in its planes and trucks.

With 11 days left until the holiday shipping season ends, it's all hands on deck at UPS and FedEx.

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  1. Of course they could speed packages along with our conveyors!