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    Executives put on work boots for last push

    L.L. Bean chief executive Chris McCormack (right) and company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem were among the executives who pitched in preparing packages for shipping
    Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press
    L.L. Bean chief executive Chris McCormack (right) and company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem were among the executives who pitched in preparing packages for shipping

    FREEPORT, Maine — With the final retail push underway, Chris McCormick, L.L. Bean’s chief executive, played Santa’s helper against a backdrop of conveyor belts and beeping front-end loaders as he boxed up slippers and shirts. But there was little time to reflect on the holiday cheer those gifts will bring because he was busy concentrating to make sure no shipments went astray.

    At L.L. Bean, top executives abandoned their desks to work in the shipping department and to answer customers’ phone calls as part of an annual all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure last-minute purchases arrive at their destinations before Christmas.

    This season, the deadline for orders with guaranteed Christmas delivery is the latest ever. L.L. Bean offered free shipping as late as noon Friday.


    ‘‘Consumers are going to buy when they want to buy. There’s no changing that, so we have to be ready,’’ McCormick, his sleeves rolled up, said during a break inside the busy 1-million-square-foot distribution center where nearly 200,000 orders are shipped daily in late December.

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    There has never been a better time to be a procrastinator because retailers continue to offer later guaranteed delivery, and in some cases retailers are offering same-day delivery in select cities, said Al Sambar, a logistics and retail strategist at the consulting firm Kurt Salmon.

    Thanks to improved shipping logistics, many online and catalog retailers established Christmas delivery deadlines on Thursday and Friday, with some like Amazon extending the deadline for one-day shipping until Saturday.

    And shoppers can expect the trend to continue.

    Retailers are increasingly focusing on speed. Following Amazon’s lead, other retailers are experimenting with regional warehouses to get the product closer to potential customers, said Raj Kumar, a retail partner at A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm.


    Macy’s, Toys R Us, and Walmart are testing pilot programs in which stores themselves are utilized as shipping hubs as retailers push for next-day and same-day delivery, he said.

    Unlike Amazon, L.L. Bean’s worldwide shipping hub is centralized, about a mile from the corporate headquarters, and features seemingly endless aisles of flannel shirts, L.L. Bean boots, camping supplies, and other items, along with a labyrinth of conveyors and chutes that transport them, and a fleet of trucks. The company hired 4,700 seasonal workers to help with the holiday rush, doubling the workforce, and 500 administrative employees are expected to get into the act during crunch times.

    Earlier this week, McCormick was boxing goods in the shipping department with the company’s financial controller, Kierston Van Soest. Nearby were the company’s chief financial officer and other executives. In Bean parlance, they are dubbed ‘‘day hikers,’’ since they are on a temporary daily assignment.

    Pulling items from a shopping cart, McCormick and Van Soest scanned the products with a bar code reader, printed shipping labels and order forms, and then boxed the items, tossing in catalogs for good measure. In the past, McCormick worked on a product-sorting conveyor line, in the retail store stockroom, and in a recycling area, breaking down empty cardboard boxes.

    The worst job, he said, was one stint working in the part of the call center that deals with angry and frustrated customers, attempting to set things right.


    ‘‘It’s hard because you’ve disappointed people and you don’t want to disappoint anybody, especially at this time of the year,’’ McCormick said. ‘‘I wouldn’t want their job.’’