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Holidays: A Logistics Problem

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The winter holiday season is a heavily conflicted time for Americans. On one hand, it’s a time for family, tradition, and reflection. On the other hand, it is a massive business undertaking that involves several different industries working in tandem. Total holiday retail sales for 2014 topped $616.1 billion, with $514.2 billion devoted to in-store sales (National Retail Federation). Those in-store sales don’t happen by themselves. Products bought off the shelves at big-box retailers have to first be transported to those retailers – that’s a big reason why the winter holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for transportation (Logistics Management). Over 290,000,000 packages are delivered between Black Friday and Christmas Eve (Supply Chain 24/7). Behind the scenes of the holiday is a supply-chain orchestration that goes largely unnoticed by the public. December combines two pillars of American culture – adherence to tradition and a drive for commerce.

Interestingly, transportation encapsulates these pillars better than many industries. Long-haul trucking companies are the backbone of American commerce, bringing products to stores year-round. They are also the backbone of American tradition. Trucking has strong ties to Middle America – truck driving is the most common job in 29 states, most of them in the country’s interior, firmly settled with traditional American values (NPR). Traditional American values have strong connections to the winter holiday season. With debate continuing nationally surrounding the traditional and secular aspects of the season, trucking companies reside at the heart of the matter. They represent both sides of the argument, the push for tradition and the demand for business.

These questions do not have much bearing on the supply-chain and logistics problems that transportation companies wrestle with at this time of year. They do, however, reassert the centrality of trucking in America, both during the winter holidays and year-round. Every product bought during the holiday rush represents this tension just as much as does the trucker who spent three years in a row away from him family on Christmas so that he could make his deliveries on time (WWAY TV). It may be the most wonderful time of the year; it is also one of the most complex. 


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