December 30, 2013

The Great 2013 Shipping Fail: Storms & Procrastination Kept Deliveries at Bay

Posted by Faith Albert Category IconNews & Trends Category IconShipping & Logistics

Promises. Around the holiday season we find ourselves making many and hoping to fulfill (at least) a few. “Sure I will finish that project before Christmas Eve.” “We will be on time to the party.” And the ever popular, “I will keep my New Year’s Resolution.” All of these utterances are followed with an encouraging, “I promise.” We will live to regret adding those two words. And we aren’t the only ones. UPS, Fedex, and a slew of other online retailers are learning the kindergarten rule, don’t make promises you can’t keep. For example: All packages big and small will be delivered by Christmas Eve.

What kept the world’s biggest shippers from their yuletide deadline?

E-commerce giant Amazon reported a record breaking holiday season and more importantly, that one million customers signed up for its premium Prime service, which boasts perks like 2-day delivery. In addition, the International Conference of Shopping Centers, reported that shoppers left 17% of gifts to buy on Sunday, allowing only two days to get those packages delivered, wrapped, and under the tree. What could go wrong? Even smaller e-commerce retailers tried to get a piece of that 17% with tweets and Facebook advertisements that promoted faster shipping. “We’re upgrading shipping on all US orders through Saturday, 12/21, at 12pm PST to arrive by Christmas! cc: @FedEx,“ tweeted Tieks, a boutique shoe retailer, on December 19th. December 17th was the company’s initial cut off for delivery by Christmas. All of this and more resulted in a demand that far exceeded shippers’ expectations.

Why Did It Come Down To The Wire?

This year Thanksgiving arrived at a historically later date, leaving everyone with 6 fewer days to shop. Personally, I feel slighted when I lose an hour during daylight savings time — 6 days is almost a week! Combine the shortage of time with the gloomy weather that plagued the East Coast during this period and you have a recipe for an online sales boom. In an article in the LA Times, Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president of market insights for MasterCard Advisors, echoes these sentiments, “One clear bright spot is that many consumers who were stuck indoors turned to online shopping to check items off their list.” Unfortunately, thE same weather that increased sales also inhibited carriers such as FedEx and UPS from fulfilling the increase in orders.

The Fallout

After packages failed to land on their designated porches, distributors took immediate action to repair relationships with aggrieved customers. Amazon removed delivery fees and promised $20 gift cards to those effected. Kohl’s went a step further, and said they would pay for items not delivered. Despite these olive branches, Facebook and Twitter still housed more than a few verbal riots on the topic. However, instead of perpetrating hate, let’s take a look at one reasonable customer, Kate Murray, who unexpectedly showed some sympathy and self-refleciton on the issue: “Being guilty myself of not planning ahead… no hate or even dislike for #ups… they work their a**ess off,” she Tweeted.

Sadly, not everyone was as introspective as Kate. There are even boycotts in place. It would be interesting to view how many people signed the Walmart boycott on Thanksgiving AND the Amazon boycott, seeing how UPS hired 55,000 seasonal workers to aid the inflated demand for delivery. These workers inevitably spent time delivering packages, sacrificing holiday time with family. Ho, Ho, Bah Humbug.

As an e-commerce advocate, I can only see this, errr…hiccup, as a growing pain. A sign of what is to come. I personally promise to try and get my orders in earlier next year, though it’s a certainty that these companies will be adding more shipping bandwidth than ever to avoid another PR lump of coal.