Robust online holiday sales continue to fuel growth at UPS, FedEx A surge in online sales is benefiting shipping and logistics companies, The New York Times reports.

Online sales jumped to record levels in 2011, with consumers spending more than $35.3 billion in November and December on such purchases, according to data released by comScore. That figure represents a 15 percent uptick from the same period the year prior, and UPS and FedEx are directly profiting.

The busiest time of the year for both UPS and FedEx is the holiday shopping season, but the two logistics giants continued to ride the record wave of online purchases from 2011 into 2012, as Americans return gifts and ship packages in unprecedented numbers.

Under normal circumstances, the two shipping giants employ business cost reduction initiatives, prudent supply chain management and efficient strategic sourcing to boost operating margins. With the added revenue from the uptick in online sales, UPS and FedEx are experiencing torrid demand for their shipping and logistics services.

UPS officials affirmed the company expected to receive approximately 55,000 returns on Tuesday, which will likely register as the company's biggest return day of the year. During the first week of 2012, UPS will likely experience a 7.7 percent jump in returns business from the same period the year prior.

"It doesn't slow down much after the holidays, despite what some people may think," UPS retail and consumer goods director Ken Burkeen asserted.

Consumers have grown increasingly comfortable with buying items online, experts say, and that helped fuel the substantial increases in holiday shopping sales. Moreover, economists assert a rise in shipping levels often indicates the economy as a whole is expanding, which is particularly positive news for the U.S., as it has suffered through tepid growth in the wake of the recession.

Nevertheless, while FedEx and UPS have clearly benefited from robust online sales, other shipping companies have not fared as well. Rail and trucking company CSX, for example, witnessed lackluster growth in the latter part of 2011, as factory orders and large companies scaled back purchases of durable goods.

"I wouldn't say that the peak season is the true peak that you and I have traditionally seen," CSX chief commercial officer Clarence W. Gooden said recently.

Such companies have worked with procurement consultants in the past to augment profits. On the other hand, some firms reorganized spend management and indirect spend as a means of implementing cost reduction programs. Still, for UPS and FedEx, strong holiday sales are fueling growth and could spur hiring.

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