Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a series exploring a professional’s busiest time or day of the year. For December, we delve into what it’s like to work for UPS during the holiday season.
A teenager wearing a Santa hat stood with her mom, quietly chatting at the register of Essex Jct.’s UPS store last Friday evening.
“That’ll be $41.48,” associate Mary Gentes said.
The two looked at each other, wide-eyed and surprised. After asking a few clarifying questions and coming to terms with the price, the mother sighed and gave in.
“All right, let’s do it,” she said.
Escalated prices are common the week or so before Christmas, Gentes explained. As December 25 draws closer, prices grow – and so do the number of customers walking through the store’s doors.
Behind the mother-daughter duo, a woman stood juggling a small dog in one arm and a large package in the other. A couple walked in soon after, setting three packages down to make a second trip to the car for more.
“I debated which would be easier, after work or at lunch today,” a customer commented in line.
By 5 p.m., the store helped 767 clients. While the day was busy, it didn’t quite compare to the non-stop line of 1,200 customers, many with packages in tow, the previous Monday.
Among Friday’s crowd were two loyal UPS patrons, Colby and Connie Carpenter. Each year, the pair sends gifts to family in Virginia.
“I might be in trouble with my daughter,” Connie Carpenter joked. “We were supposed to send less this year.”
Ten days before Christmas, the woman said they made it to the store earlier than usual. Year after year, though, they choose UPS because the company is dependable and has shorter lines and lower fees than the U.S. Postal Service, they said.
With Christmas on a Sunday, Gentes said people forget they’re losing a couple essential delivery days.
When associates ring up the total price or the estimated ship and arrival dates, Gentes said customers are usually surprised.
“Sometimes, they’ll just laugh,” UPS worker Katie Faure said.
Lightheartedness is common with workers too, who also try and make light of delivering the bad news.
“I remember years ago, I did one [transaction] and the guy said, ‘I wanna make it there by Christmas,’ and I said, ‘Do you wanna leave me next week’s paycheck?’” Gentes reminisced with a grin.
Staying positive was essential for the UPS staff earlier Friday when their computers crashed. When a scale didn’t connect to the computer correctly, a line of customers were left waiting.
“It pretty much slows it down by like two to four times,” associate Sergio Mendes said.
The lull wasn’t something the associates are used to: They couldn’t recall a similar situation occurring in the past.
Gentes, who started at UPS about 20 years ago, recognized how technology has changed her position. After taking some time off, she returned to the store in April and underwent training for the new computer system.
Before, customers filled out their own mailing slips. Now, it’s all computerized and performed by associates, saving time by having customer information saved and by not having to deal with poor penmanship, Gentes said.
Also new to UPS is the store’s pick-up policy. If a recipient won’t be home during delivery hours, they can have a package held at the Essex Jct. store. This helps with the rising levels of doorstep thefts, Gentes noted.
Behind a towering pile of cardboard boxes, a UPS driver lamented about the two falls he endured that day.
At the front of the store, a bell jingled as another customer trudged through the door, struggling to keep it open with two sizable packages spanning across his chest.
“Christmas is like the season for UPS,” Faure said, nodding behind the counter and extending a helping hand to the store’s newest customer.