Australians truly shopped ‘til we dropped during the pandemic lockdowns last year, with new figures confirming an explosion in e-commerce that saw our carriers working overtime to deliver more than 1 billion packages in 2020.

That figure – a record for Australia – represented an average of 40 purchases for every man, woman, and child in the country, and an average run rate of 33 parcels per second for the entire year.

Yet even this was dwarfed by the UK – where per-capita parcel shipments surged from 56 in 2019 to 74 last year – and the United States, whose 330m people each ordered an average of 61 packages last year.

Increased volumes boosted delivery-company revenues, with Australia’s parcel shipping market generating $7.8 billion and Australian customers paying the world’s third highest price per parcel – $7.62, after France ($9.30) and the US ($8.50).

The figures, contained in the latest annual Parcel Shipping Index from e-commerce shipping technology giant Pitney Bowes, highlighted the explosive growth of package shipments during the first year of the pandemic – during which 131.2b parcels were shipped globally, up 27 per cent from 103m the year before.

That figure is expected to more than double in the next five years globally, to 266m packages in 2026, based on forecast 12 per cent compound annual growth rate.

Australia Post alone carried 40 per cent of parcel volumes – 400 million packages, or just over a million packages per day – explaining why the company has continued to struggle to keep up with demand.

Shipping delays have been widespread, with packages taking days or weeks to travel a handful of suburbs and Australia Post recently halting deliveries for a weekend to catch up with runaway parcel volumes amidst staff losses from widespread COVID isolation.

The delays have led to widespread warnings from e-commerce merchants that Christmas shoppers should start early to allow for shipping delays – with Australia Post acting chief executive recently saying the company was already carrying normal Christmas-time parcel volumes and that “this Christmas is certainly going to be the busiest we’ve ever seen”.

All I want for Christmas is… delayed

Sheer parcel numbers are only one part of the problem, however: e-commerce merchants around the world are increasingly feeling the impact of supply-chain interruptions caused by COVID outbreaks at manufacturers, raw-materials producers, and logistics companies around the world.

British petrol giants, for example, are currently in crisis mode as surging lockdown numbers perpetuate a shortage of drivers and the supplies they carry – exposing soft spots in global supply chains that are being stretched to the limit. The resulting petrol hoarding by motorists continues to cause chaos.

Buyers at major electronics firms placed their holiday orders from Chinese manufacturers weeks earlier than usual this year, while JB-HiFi is hiring 1,500 casuals to handle Christmas orders and Amazon Australia is hiring over 1,000 workers to help keep up with surging orders.

Australia Post, for its part, will hire almost 5,000 people to help it keep up with demand as the holiday shopping season kicks into full swing.

Given record parcel shipments, Pitney Bowes Japan, Australia and New Zealand vice president and country manager Stephen Darracott advised Australian e-commerce companies to reconsider the way they fulfil customer orders.

“With global economic uncertainty and supply chain issues compounding the surge in online shopping and shipping, businesses must look at how they execute transactions with their customers,” he said.

“As we move into peak shipping season in Australia, it will be key for organisations to explore technology platforms that offer multiple carriers and an easy way to compare pricing.”

Australians will spend more than $11 billion on Christmas presents this year, according to a recent Roy Morgan survey that also found 48 per cent of those presents are likely to be purchased online – and 58 per cent set to purchase “more or significantly more items” online than last year.

“The past few months have been a uniquely challenging time for most retailers,” Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said.

“Consumers should be mindful of the strain our supply chains are under and make sure they get their online orders in on time to avoid disappointment.

“We might be in September, but we’re already seeing Christmas levels of demand.”