Business & Real Estate

Post offices to open Sundays for holiday shipping

Candace Cheathon, customer relations coordinator for the Sacramento district, answers questions for customers waiting in line at the Royal Oaks Post Office on Saturday. The post office is extending weekend hours through the holidays.
Candace Cheathon, customer relations coordinator for the Sacramento district, answers questions for customers waiting in line at the Royal Oaks Post Office on Saturday. The post office is extending weekend hours through the holidays.

For the first time in its history, the United States Postal Service is opening its retail post offices on Sundays starting now, part of an aggressive plan to handle increased shipping demands spurred by holiday shoppers.

“Until someone figures out how to email a sweater, they’re going to continue shipping that sweater through us,” USPS spokesman Augustine Ruiz said.

In addition to the Sunday openings, which end Dec. 21, the agency is extending hours on Saturday in the region. Last month, USPS began delivering seven days a week in major cities and high-volume areas, anticipating the holiday shipping crunch. The package shipment sector has been a boon for the Postal Service, which in recent years experienced sharp declines in mail volume with the advent of the Internet.

At the region’s mail processing facility in West Sacramento, USPS is expected to sort more than 8.3 million pieces of mail on Dec. 15, the busiest day of the season. Nationally, package shipments for USPS for the season are expected to hover between 450 million and 470 million parcels, a 12 percent increase over last year, according to the Postal Service.

“As more people buy online, they need a reliable courier to deliver their product,” Ruiz said. “That’s why we’re seeing a double-digit increase.”

On Saturday, dozens of customers lined up at the Sacramento Main Post Office on Royal Oaks Drive, near Cal Expo, to mail gifts to family and buy stamps. Several people dropped off packages that were already prepaid online.

Others, like Troy McCoy, waited, cash in hand, for the clerk to call them up to the counter.

“The post office is the closest thing, and it’s cheap, too,” said McCoy, when asked why he chose the venerable Postal Service over its private sector competitors Federal Express and United Parcel Service.

The growth in shipment demand reflects the National Retail Federation’s forecast of an 8 percent to 11 percent jump in online sales this holiday season.

“People are just becoming more and more comfortable shopping online,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for the NPD Group, a market research firm in New York. “No one’s ever enjoyed the fights, crowds … all the obstacles of shopping in the store.”

And with online retailers, including those with a brick-and-mortar presence, discounting more aggressively, the dollars are naturally flowing to e-commerce, Cohen said.

From Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, online sales rose 12.6 percent over last year, according to IBM Digital Analytics, which tracks online transactions.

For the first time, it appears consumers are shopping more with their mobile devices than with their desktop computers. More than 50 percent of all traffic to online retailers came from mobile devices, including phones and tablet computers, IBM reported. Four years ago, that number was only 6.5 percent.

“It seems like mobile shopping is the new Thanksgiving tradition,” said Jay Henderson, director of IBM Smarter Commerce.

Ruiz acknowledged that the “face of the mail has changed” with the proliferation of e-mail and that it was critical for the Postal Service to cash in on the wave of package shipments.

In fact, the post office in recent years struck a partnership with FedEx and UPS to complete delivery of packages in rural and other hard-to-reach areas. The system allows UPS and FedEx to save on delivery costs, while giving the Postal Service increased volume.

“We have a symbiotic relationship with our competitors,” Ruiz said. “They like to concentrate on dense markets, but for us, there isn’t an address we don’t deliver to.”

Last year, FedEx and UPS drew flak from consumers and retailers alike for delivering packages after Christmas, largely because of a surge in last-minute online orders. UPS spokesman Dan Cardillo said his company is working with retailers to avert a similar disaster this year by hiring more seasonal workers and increasing capacity.

“Free shipping is definitely contributing to online shipping,” Cardillo said.

USPS’ Ruiz said postal workers aren’t deterred by the massive amounts of packages.

“We’ve been geared up and ready to go ever since we began this in 1776,” he said.

Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

Post Office hours

Sacramento-region post offices with extended hours

Sundays: December 7, 14, 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Saturdays: December 13, 20 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Davis Post Office – 2020 Fifth St., Davis
  • Sacramento Main Post Office – 2000 Royal Oaks Ave., Sacramento
  • Elk Grove Post Office – 8850 Williamson Dr., Elk Grove
  • Roseville Post Office – 1860 Sierra Gardens Dr., Roseville
  • Fair Oaks Post Office – 7862 Winding Way, Fair Oaks
  • Rocklin Post Office – 5515 Pacific St., Rocklin

Roseville police spokeswoman Dee Dee Gunther offers tips on thwarting package thieves:

▪ Carefully track your package

▪ Try to reschedule the delivery if you won’t be at home

▪ Packages are more likely to be stolen off someone’s porch during the day

▪ Report any package theft to police

Gunther recommends searching for a stolen package because criminals have been known to drop packages they don’t like.