NEW YORK UPS (UPS) expects to deliver 527 million packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, surpassing last year's record high by 10 percent.
The world's largest package delivery company estimates 28 million of those will be delivered on Thursday, Dec. 20 - projected to be the busiest day of the year. That's nearly double what the Atlanta company moves on an average day.
The busiest day of the year has moved close to Christmas because more Americans are ordering gifts online and using expedited shipping. Most packages will arrive within three days. Last-minute shoppers who ship packages by Friday, Dec. 21, can get their goods by Christmas Eve via next day air.
To handle the big jump in package volume, UPS plans to hire 55,000 seasonal workers to sort, load and deliver packages, the same number it hired last year, but 10 percent higher than in 2010.
UPS' smaller rival FedEx expects to handle 280 million shipments between Thanksgiving and Christmas, up 13 percent from the same stretch last year.
On FedEx's busiest day this year, projected to be Dec. 10, it forecasts 19 million packages will move through its network, up 10 percent from 2011.
FedEx's busiest day is much earlier because its peak time shipments are comprised of fewer priority packages. The company is based in Memphis, Tenn.
Overall holiday sales are projected to rise 4.1 percent, according to The National Retail Federation. That would be the smallest increase since 2009, but still higher than the 10-year average of 3.5 percent.
But online holiday sales will grow 16.8 percent, excluding travel purchases, according to research firm eMarketer. Online shopping accounts for about $1 in every $10 spent over the holidays.
FedEx (FDX) and UPS can benefit twice when consumers shop online: They ship the gift to the receiver, and they also ship the unwanted presents that are later returned.