Reuters

The shipping company will make 28 million drop-offs today -- 324 a second.

Holiday season in the United States is show time for United Parcel Service and FedEx—respectively, the world’s number one package deliverer and largest cargo airline. With online retailers already posting huge numbers for the season, both shipping magnates are expecting big numbers for the holiday season. FedEx CEO Frederick Wallace Smith revealed Wednesday that Dec. 17 was its busiest day ever, handling 19.8 million shipments.

That number still pales in comparison to the 28 million packages that UPS will deliver on Thursday, Dec. 20, its own busiest day of the year. On an average day, UPS handles 15.8 million packages. FedEx, by contrast, averages north of 3.4 million packages per day.

The scale difference also shows up clearly in the financials. In their last reported fiscal years, FedEx raked in $26.5 billion in revenue (for the year ending May 2012) compared to the $53.1 billion UPS boasted (for the year ending Dec. 31).

The two companies, rivaled only by German Deutsche Post in Europe, are the largest carriers of lightweight packages in the world—as opposed to freight carriers like shipping company Maersk and railroad company Union Pacific. UPS, founded in 1907 as a means of coordinating neighborhood shipments and merchant distribution, has a much longer history with merchants than does the 40-year-old FedEx, which was founded initially as an air freight transportation service.

Interestingly, there are places where the difference in scale doesn’t line up. Though it takes in far more revenue, UPS’s air fleet is smaller: 230 jet aircraft and 301 chartered aircraft. FedEx boasts 660 aircraft. More aircraft also means bigger expenditures on things like fuel and repairs. Then again, those numbers are reflected in the company’s international business: in the last annual reporting period, FedEx saw 30.1 percent of its revenue generated internationally (up nearly 8 percent over the last 10 years). UPS has grown more slowly during that time period to see 25.9 percent of its revenue generated outside the US.

UPS has a plan to change that, with its likely (but lengthy) acquisition of European shipper TNT Express. In the works since March, the agreement appears to be moving forward with new amendments from the European Commission. The bigger battle, however, will be fought in Asia, as both carriers attempt to tap a budding Chinese consumer market. Both companies were given the okay from the Chinese government in September to provide express-package delivery service to some parts of China, giving them inroads into the rapidly growing parcel delivery market. For now, FedEx can distribute goods to eight cities; UPS, which has a smaller presence in China, has access to five. Clearly, they want more.

Given the difficulties they’ve already faced accessing this new market, it’s too soon to tell how UPS and FedEx will duke out their battle in Asia. For now, it’s clear UPS’s scale on the ground is unmatchable; its employees are sorting packages like mad on what will likely be its busiest day ever.

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A cyclist rides on the bike lane in the Mid Market neighborhood during Bike to Work Day in San Francisco,
    Perspective

    Why We Need to Dream Bigger Than Bike Lanes

    In the 1930s big auto dreamed up freeways and demanded massive car infrastructure. Micromobility needs its own Futurama—one where cars are marginalized.

  2. Perspective

    Untangling the Housing Shortage and Gentrification

    Untangling these related but different problems is important, because the tactics for solving one won’t work for the other.

  3. Maps

    A Comprehensive Map of American Lynchings

    The practice wasn’t limited to the South, as this new visualization of racial violence in the Jim Crow era proves.

  4. a photo of the Maryland Renaissance Festival
    Life

    The Utopian Vision That Explains Renaissance Fairs

    What’s behind the enduring popularity of all these medieval-themed living-history festivals?

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×