And still they come….
Almost every afternoon, there is a line to get in to the UPS store at 1107 Fair Oaks Ave. in the Vons shopping center. The pandemic hasn’t hurt business at this store.
In fact, it’s booming.
You might say, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” but it’s been like this for months.
”It’s a different world,” said store owner Alan Uehara. “Every day has seemed like Christmas in terms of business since the pandemic started.”
Uehara said that business has been up about 20% compared with the same period last year and that 50-80% of the business is related to Amazon.
“The last six months have been crazy and Amazon returns are through the roof,” said Uehara, who added that he heard from other store managers that the same pattern has emerged at their locations, and that UPS delivery people report the same thing.
The UPS store used to have 10-15 items returned each day, Uehara said. That number is now up to 20-30. People go to the front door with their printed labels and often just drop off their packages at the table by the store entrance.
“A lot of people are seeing how easy it is,” Uehara said.
I looked at the pile of returns, and some of items I saw were two camouflage outfits, bags of tennis balls, sheets, blankets and shirts.
And that was just some of the outer layer of packages I could see.
“Every few days, it seems the stack of things to be returned goes from there [the floor] to the rafters,” Uehara said.
“Because of shipping returns, we’re seeing people in here that it is the first time I’ve ever seen them,” said employee August Edens of Pasadena.
Uehara said the store gets paid for volume shipped back. Employees will take the smaller items and put them in bigger boxes for shipment back to Amazon.
Sometimes, Uehara said, people will order 12 pairs of shoes and find the one or two pairs they like and ship the others back to Amazon. The same goes for all sorts of items, he said.
Just spend an hour watching and you’ll hear how buying online has become even more prevalent than before the pandemic.
“A lot of people are seeing how easy it is,” Uehara said. “We’ve seen a huge interest in people buying dog food, and then some people are buying from these places where you can send in your [clothing] measurements and get items sent back.
“Some of them are going back again,” he added.
Cheryl, from Los Angeles, said she doesn’t purchase groceries online, but does buy lots of household items and also vitamins and gym shoes.
“It keeps me from going to the store,” said Cheryl, who declined to give her last name but wasn’t shy about her online shopping habits; she’s definitely not one of those people who buy 15 of something and send 14 back.
“I know what I want,” she said.
She said that her online shopping has increased about 10% since the pandemic started, but that her sons do all of their shopping online.
“They wouldn’t buy a toothpick without going online,” Cheryl said.
Ben Tyson of El Sereno was in the shop for notary service. Tyson said he has been trying to support local small businesses but has noticed that he, too, is shopping more online than before the pandemic started last March.
Some people have started small businesses since March. There is one person who ships her home-baked cookies. And food is coming in, too.
People with post office boxes can get their meals delivered, and the food was in warming bags awaiting its recipients.
UPS store employee Isabella Mary of Montebello said some people almost get carried away with how easy the process can be.
“I’m grateful for the Plexiglas between me and the customer,” she said, “but some people have the bar codes on their phones” — a shortcut some store patrons use to speed their transactions — “and they reach around and put the phone right next to my face.”
No, that is not proper social distancing, by any means.
As for online usage, Abbi Zadeh, took the prize while I was there.
He had just bought a home in Highland Park and had gone online to buy everything from couches to a stereo system.
But there was one mistake that he needed help unloading back to the UPS store.
It seems he had bought an electric dryer for his clothes but needed one that uses gas.
So there he stood, waiting to return a 50-pound box that needed to go back to Amazon. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
If you judge Santa by the boxful.
And speaking of Santa, who knows what things will be like at the UPS store before and after the holidays?
“We had already noticed a change in the pattern of people coming in,” Uehara said. “January used to be a quiet month, and now it’s already busy with people returning things.
“We’ll see what the holidays are going to be like,” he added.