Cardboard crazy: Worldwide parcel numbers are shocking

The volume of shipped parcels reported in a new global survey captures full scope of the new economy.

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Can you guess how many parcels, on average, were shipped per person in the world's major economies last year? The number surprised me and underlies the rapid spread of ecommerce across vastly different cultural terrains: 23.

That was one finding in an annual survey just released by Pitney Bowes, a global technology company working in ecommerce. The Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index found that global parcel volume reached 87 billion in 2018, up from 74 billion parcels in 2017. Perhaps most eye-opening? The index forecasts the annual figure will more than double in the next six years, cresting 200 billion parcels by 2025.

The index accounts for business-to-business, business-to-consumer, consumer-to-business, and consumer consigned shipments with weight up to 70 lbs. in 13 major markets: U.S., Canada, Brazil, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, China, Japan, Australia, and India. 

A confluence of technologies is behind the trend, from the near-total saturation in the considered markets of connected devices to a revolution in robotics that's enabling the ultrafast shipping that makes online shopping a viable alternative to physical stores.

Most U.S. readers will know anecdotally that the number of parcels sent each year is on the rise. Amazon has remade the underlying processes of American commerce, and the ramifications can be felt throughout the economy. According to the report, the United States topped shipping revenue globally last year, accounting for $118.9 billion.

But the U.S. wasn't the driver of the tremendous growth in the volume of shipped parcels worldwide. That honor goes to China.

Consider that the latest report reveals a growth of 17 percent in 2018 in all markets. Excluding China's numbers, however, global growth is only around six percent. China's parcel industry volumes reached CAGR of 41 percent from 2013-2018 as volume grew 26 percent year-over-year. In volume alone, China quadrupled the shipping volume of the United States.

Brazil saw the second-highest year-over-year growth rate of countries surveyed with a 25 percent increase in year-over-year parcel volume from 2017-18. India, another maturing economy, had a CAGR of 25 percent in parcel volume from 2013-18 and a year-over-year growth of 21 percent.

The scale of the growth is truly mesmerizing. All told, there were 2,760 parcels shipped every second in the 13 major markets last year. 

The implications, ranging from the ecological to the economic, are far-reaching, but one thing is certain: It's a good time to own a cardboard box factory.