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How to Escape a Holiday Mail Mess

What are some key items small businesses should keep in mind as they set up a shipping program?

Leavitt: The biggest thing that a customer needs to do to ensure their packages and shipments actually get there on time is double-check ZIP codes and addresses. The carriers this time of year are so busy that rather than go and find the address they just put it back on the truck and it goes back to the terminal, which just delays the shipment.

The next thing after address is to make sure you put a phone number on so the delivery person can easily get a hold of where it goes and route it properly.

Oftentimes people don't put the exact weight and size on the bill of weighting. They'll also put the wrong class. Putting the wrong weight and wrong class can also cause delays.

Those are pretty critical. If you do all that, the carrier can respond more appropriately in their pickup and delivery process.

Does the holiday season affect commercial shipments?

Leavitt: The carriers' capacity is maxed out, particularly UPS -- their planes are full, their trucks are full, and so the pickup and delivery people are very tired and worn out from the extra packages. All it takes is one driver out sick and it causes stress on everybody. There can be delays from that. In some markets there might be overcapacity. Where they would have offered two-day service it may take an extra day.

The driver is also less apt to take extra time to fill out paperwork if there is damage.

What should a small business do to prepare for the busy period?

Leavitt: Give yourself an extra day or two. If you know it has to be there by Friday, don't ship on Wednesday; ship it on Monday or Tuesday. The other thing to do would be to move up the time of day. If you normally want shipment picked up at 4 p.m. move it up an hour or two or three. Give the carrier a little more window. Make sure the package is properly packaged. Pallets are shrink wrapped to hold packages together; put a little extra wrap on them. Label each box. And check the carriers' holiday schedules.

This year on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, many carriers won't be picking up packages. UPS has limited Saturday service. Don't leave something until Friday at 5 p.m. and expect that UPS will have the manpower to come pick it up.

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