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For couriers living in fear of Singles’ Day, the week after is a bonanza of extra pay

For delivery man Lin Zhenhui, his busiest day of 2016 has arrived.

One of the estimated 2.68 million couriers hired to whisk parcels from sellers to customers during China’s 24-hour Singles’ Day online shopping gala, Lin awoke at 5 am on Saturday for a 19-hour slog through hundreds of parcels, double his typical daily delivery.

An estimated 1.05 billion parcels will be generated in the six days after November 11, when Alibaba Group Holdings and rival retailers like JD.com, Amazon and Suning offered discounts of up to 50 per cent to customers to the world’s largest online shopping event.

“We are extremely busy and have to work very hard to ensure there is no delivery delay, otherwise our warehouse will be full and new packages can’t come in,” said Lin, a 28-year-old native of rural Shandong province, who works at Winshine Logistics in Shanghai. “I am happy with the shopping day because it means I have more work to do and can earn more money.”

Lin, who’d been shuttling parcels for three years , gets between 2 and 3 yuan for every parcel he delivers in Shanghai. With the extra work following Singles’ Day, he’s able to raise his November salary to 8,000 yuan, a third more than his usual monthly income, which is 40 per cent higher than the city’s average salary for blue collar workers.

Business had been good for Lin over the past three years, as more and more Chinese consumers took to online shopping, with e-commerce now making up 11 per cent of China’s total retail sales by volume.

Lin is assigned to deliver parcels to a small community in Pudong district, a stone’s throw from the city’s Zhangjiang High-Tech industrial zone. It’s a smaller neighbourhood than his previous assignment, but he’s still able to earn a decent living, he said.

On a cloudy Saturday morning after Alibaba reported a record 120.7 billion yuan (US$17.8 billion) of record online sales, Lin rode an electric bicycle to one of 24 apartment blocks along Fanghua Road, where most buildings had no elevators. Lin said he’s used to climbing stairs, and he did so briskly.

In his delivery sachet were three parcels for a customer on the fifth floor, bought from Alibaba’s TMall online supermarket. He called the contact phone number multiple times, to no avail.

An undelivered parcel not only means uncollected fee, it also throws a wrench into his hectic and finely calibrated delivery schedule.

“This third box is heavy. Now I have to try my luck to see if there is anyone at his home to receive the packages,” Lin said before taking to the stairs. “I don’t want to come again since it’s a waste of time and I must try every means to save time.”

He knocked on the door at the address, and waited several minutes before a sleepy-eyed man answered and accepted the delivery.

This will continue for the entire week after November 11, where Lin puts in six extra hours every day to deliver about 200 parcels, double his typical daily task.

“Many people said the delivery job is highly paid, but I’d say it’s a hard living,” said Lin, who only takes two days off work every month.

Couriers and logistics companies all over China face particular pressure during the period around November 11 because of the sheer volume of parcels to process, said Wang Xiwen, manager of the courier station where Lin uploaded his packages.

“We made forecasts last month and expanded our courier team from 12 workers to 20 this month,” Wang said. The company had to also step up its maintenance of the couriers’ bicycles and hired temporary workers to help them through the schedule.

A week ago, the delivery business was suffering from a cold winter, and wasn’t quite thriving, said Zhang Liangyun, who delivers parcels at YTO Express in Shanghai.

“At the end of October, people ceased purchasing things on the internet and instead put their favourite items in the shopping chart and waited for November 11,” he said.

Other peak seasons for the delivery industry include December 12 and June 18, and the days before Lunar New Year, according to Zhang. But no other day beats Singles’ Day in sheer scale and volume, Zhang said.

“I actually live in fear of this day because in the week following November 11, I’m overwhelmed by work,” he said.