It’s that time of year… the time when you power up your trusty laptop and start turning wish lists into reality. But have you ever wondered what it takes to get all those packages delivered to your door?
Naturally, it takes a lot of communication and a well-coordinated effort between retailers and transportation providers (oh, and Santa, of course). BNSF and our service partners work hand-in-hand to make sure the cool new tech gadget you bought your dad for Christmas makes it in time for it to be wrapped and set under the tree.
"The holiday shopping season is as important to the transportation supply chain as it is to the retail sector," says Joni Casey, president and CEO, Intermodal Association of North America. "Intermodal shipments can more than double for many shippers during this time of year based on the statistics that IANA maintains."
"This is the most important time of the year for several of our customers, and because it’s important to them, it’s important to us," explains Tom Williams, group vice president, Consumer Products. “We want to help companies keep the promises they make to their customers, and that means we need to keep the promises we make to them."
Here’s where communication and coordination are critical. This year the outlook is again merry and bright as analysts at accounting firm Deloitte have estimated holiday retail sales will top $1 trillion.
That’s trillion. With a "T."
To make sure BNSF keeps its promise to move everything on time, we have to be extra diligent this season.
“There are always things that happen, like washouts and snowstorms, that we can’t prevent,” says Rob Reilly, vice president, BNSF South Region Operations. “Remaining agile and finding alternative ways to get shipments to their destinations on time are how we meet our customers’ expectations during this critical time of year.”
Even if it’s a mild winter, we railroaders still have to stay on our toes and adapt. For example, over the past couple of decades, shopping habits have changed the way we operate at the tail-end of the year, with gift cards lengthening the holiday-buying season as more people shop later in the year and early into the New Year.
Today, the biggest disruptor is e-commerce, which is predicted to account for roughly $130 billion in holiday sales this year, according to the same Deloitte forecast. Online shoppers have certain expectations: free shipping, free returns, two-day delivery. So how do we do it? Some of our routes are more than 2,000 miles long. Two days?
As you might have guessed, we moved the item you bought online to a nearby warehouse or distribution center long before you even clicked “Complete Purchase.” That means that by the time you entered your credit card number, the item was already within hours of your shipping address.
It may seem like the way we shop has changed dramatically, but “buy now” isn’t that much different than shopping at a traditional retail store. That’s because the items in your physical shopping cart also had to be logistically positioned before you reached for them on the shelf.
Today, online sales account for slightly over 10 percent of all retail sales, but they continue to have the largest projections for growth.
So no matter how you prefer to shop, we’ll help get that new gadget to you on time.
Did you know?
In 2017, BNSF delivered more than 70 million packages during the holiday season. That’s nearly 7.8 million packages for each of Santa’s reindeer – Rudolph included, of course.