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Four Things That Are Different About Holiday Freight Season

July 8, 2022 Kevin Baxter

Christmas Boxes

We've done the recap of last year's holiday freight shipping season. We've gone over a few lessons shippers should learn. Now, let's take a step back to discuss just what makes holiday freight season different from shipping other times of year. Aside from the fact that air freight carriers have to share the skies with Santa Claus for one night, there are a number of other factors that make holiday freight season stand out. And shippers would be wise to recognize these four things that make holiday freight season unique as they move their products - seasonal and otherwise - through the latter part of the year.

Seasonal Merchandise

Seasonal merchandise is perhaps the most major difference between the holiday season and other times of year. Seasonal merchandise refers to both obvious and possibly not so obvious items, including

  • Holiday decorations like lights, ornaments, home decor and more
  • Christmas trees (these deserve their own category because of their unique shipping process)
  • Gift wrap (also deserves its own category as it's especially popular this time of year)
  • Toys (not that they aren't around all year, but holiday gift-giving makes this a whole new ballgame)
  • Candy (Halloween anyone? Plus, it's not like people don't partake at Christmas time as well)
  • Turkeys (Thanksgiving anyone? Plus, it's not like people don't partake at Christmas time as well - sorry for the broken record)

These goods hit supply chains early and often, taking up capacity in all transportation modes.


If you've read the first difference regarding seasonal items, this one was pretty easy to predict. All those seasonal items don't replace products that are shipped year-round, they're just added on top of them - tilting freight volume heavily toward retail. In fact, over the past several years, the Census Bureau has recorded an uptick of six to eight percent in retail sales during the 4th quarter.  That translates to more purchases and more freight volume. Including January, which accounts for leftover shipments and returns, freight volume traditionally ticks up around the holiday season to yearly highs. That means capacity is at a premium. 


And with capacity at a premium, pricing generally follows. While the traditional peak season pricing occurs more in the leadup to the actual holiday season, holiday retail is a major reason why peak season exists. That's because shippers are racing to get their products into position for consumers to buy when they're shopping most. And that just so happens to be starting earlier than ever. So due to the higher volume and capacity challenges, shippers face higher peak costs like general rate increases (GRIs) and peak season surcharges (PSS) to move loads where they need to go.


Another issue tied to heavier volume and reduced capacity is the prospect of delays. Even outside of the holiday period - and especially during the pandemic - shipping times became less reliable. But up to and during the holiday season, freight lanes can be especially slow. That means, shippers need to be flexible in how they move products, whether it's using different carriers or modes, or splitting shipments to prioritize their most important products. The holiday shopping season presents a pretty hard deadline, so when all else fails, paying even more for expedited still may be the right way to go.

If you're ready to take the next step, at InTek Freight & Logistics, we can help. Just tell us what you need and we'll discuss how our expertise can help with the unique shipping challenges your business faces. Rather do a bit more research first? View our Freight Guides for comprehensive articles and eBooks on all things freight and logistics.

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