OTTAWA -- Canada Post is urging Canadians to shop early this holiday season to avoid the late arrival of gifts caused by a pandemic-induced shift to online shopping.

"We know how important these items are to you and we want to deliver," says Rod Hart, Canada Post's chief customer and marketing officer.

In a video to customers, he says many retailers are gearing up for early shopping.

"We're gearing up to help you and to help them have a great ending to a very challenging year. So this holiday season, please shop early."

The postal service is scaling up operations to handle an expected surge in parcel volumes by adding more than 4,000 seasonal employees, more than 1,000 vehicles and extra equipment.

Canada Post will also deliver on weekends in many communities, add more pickup locations and extend hours at many post offices.

It is improving its tracking technology so customers can follow the progress of their parcels and working with major customers to improve the flow of parcels.

The changes come as retailers in Canada and the U.S. launch their holiday season earlier in a bid to partially make up for store closures caused by COVID-19.

Hudson's Bay Co. launched its yuletide collection of clothing and decor six weeks early, Indigo added private shopping hours so customers can avoid crowds and Reitmans added seasonal outfits early as COVID upends shopping surges on Black Friday.

Michael LeBlanc, a senior adviser at the Retail Council of Canada, says consumers may have more spending money on hand after shelling out less on vacations, commutes and lunchtime cappuccinos.

"Our message to Canadians for the holidays is: shop early and shop often. This is not the year to wait. And retailers are telling me they're seeing signs of gift buying already," LeBlanc said.

Purolator, the courier service owned by Canada Post, is also rolling out low-speed electric vehicles in busy downtown areas of Toronto and Montreal, along with electric-cargo bikes (e-bikes) in Montreal.

It is also testing automated self-serve parcel lockers at a Montreal subway station.

"More than ever, we're committed to helping dense metropolitan cities operate more smoothly through new delivery methods that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Purolator CEO John Ferguson said.

Purolator said it has seen home deliveries rise about 50 per cent since the onset of the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2020.