published Friday, December 27th, 2013

Waiting on Santa: Overwhelmed shippers failed to deliver in time for Christmas

Sarina Doughty, 42, looks through her blinds at home, in Athens, Tenn., Thursday waiting and checking online tracking every hour on the hour until the package arrived late in the afternoon
Sarina Doughty, 42, looks through her blinds at home, in Athens, Tenn., Thursday waiting and checking online tracking every hour on the hour until the package arrived late in the afternoon
Photo by Tim Barber.
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Was one of your holiday gifts delayed?

Even as Christmas decorations begin to come down, gifts are still showing up on some doorsteps.

Some packages that UPS and FedEx promised to deliver by the holiday didn't make it in time, because of high demand for last-minute shipping and bad weather in some parts of the country. FedEx and UPS said that only a small portion of all holiday shipping was delayed, though they would not share exact numbers, The Associated Press reported.

Sarina Doughty, of Athens, Tenn., had planned to give her 14-year-old son an iPod for Christmas. But when UPS still had not delivered the package by Christmas Eve, Doughty turned to plan B.

"I printed a picture of the item and wrote a note, saying it had fallen off the sleigh in another country," Doughty said.

She gave the note, which was signed by "Walt," the head elf in the shipping department. to her son on Christmas morning. Doughty said her son appreciated the note -- even if he did not actually believe it was from Santa's elf.

"He's got such a great sense of humor, so it was good," Doughty said.

But not everyone took the delayed shipments so well. On Twitter, people started to chronicle their woes with the hashtags "#UPSfail" and "FedExfail." Early this week, tweets started popping up that said things like "@UPS is the grinch that stole Christmas" and "Dear @FedEx if I paid for overnight shipping why is my package still sitting at your facility?"

But Ajdin Kesic, a UPS employee from East Ridge, rebutted all the negativity on Twitter with a tweet of his own:

"#upsfail are you kidding me? We at Ups work as hard as we can to make sure everybody gets their packages."

Jan Starr De Lacy, of Chattanooga, said she understands how hard UPS employees work, but a promise is a promise. She paid extra for two-day shipping for a package so that it would arrive in time for Christmas. It didn't.

"UPS didn't deliver, and the management needs to take responsibility," De Lacy told the Times Free Press in a Facebook comment.

UPS is the No. 1 holiday shipping business, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The company has 101,000 delivery vehicles. FedEx has more jets but only about 32,000 vehicles for ground delivery, Bloomberg reported.

On Christmas Day, UPS wrote on its website that it was making every effort to deliver holiday gifts on time, but that "the volume of air packages in our system exceeded the capacity of our network immediately preceding Christmas."

The company did not deliver on Dec. 25, but it resumed deliveries Thursday and said it expected to deliver nearly all the remaining packages by day's end.

For Amazon customers who did not receive Christmas packages on time, the company has promised to refund shipping costs and give customers $20 credit for future Amazon purchases.

The gesture seems to have generated goodwill, at least for Amazon customer Krystal Ducker of Ringgold, Ga. When Ducker ordered books for her daughter on Dec. 20, Amazon told Ducker she should receive them by Christmas Eve. One package arrived, but the other did not. Still, she's impressed with the way Amazon handled the mess-up.

"I thought that was above and beyond great customer service." Ducker wrote on Facebook.

Ducker is a member of Amazon Prime, which promises free two-day shipping to everyone who pays the $79 annual membership fee. Amazon reported that it signed up 1 million new Prime members during the third week of December.

The late packages could hurt business for FedEx and UPS, according to Jeremy Robinson-Leon, the CEO of Group Gordon, a corporate and crisis PR firm.

"It is a major problem for UPS and FedEx. The central pillar of their business is a perception of reliability with their customers," Robinson-Leon told the AP.

But Andrew Lipsman, vice president of industry analysis for comScore, told the AP that by this time next year, it may not matter.

"Consumers tend to have a short memory, especially if you fast-forward to another year," Lipsman said.

Kimberly Cates-Thomasson, of Tullahoma, Tenn., did not receive all the packages she was expecting in time for Christmas -- "but we survived." Instead of blaming the shipping company, she blames herself.

"In the end it's my fault for not ordering the package earlier," Cates-Thomasson wrote on Facebook. "The shipping companies couldn't predict the amount of work they would have to do before the holiday this year."

On Thursday, Sarina Doughty was checking the delivery status of her son's iPod -- the one that fell off Santa's sleigh -- every hour through an online tracking system.

Finally, late in the afternoon, the package arrived.

Christmas will have to wait another couple of days, though.

Her son wasn't there to receive his gift.

Contact staff writer Mary Helen Miller at mhmiller@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6324.

about Mary Helen Miller...

Mary Helen Miller joined the staff at the Chattanooga Times Free Press as a multimedia reporter in 2013. She produces audio, video, and graphics for the Web, and occasionally writes stories. Before starting at the Times Free Press, Mary Helen worked as a radio reporter at WUTC, the NPR affiliate station in Chattanooga. She won an Edward R. Murrow award for a story she produced there about the anniversary of the 2011 tornadoes that hit ...

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