UPS, FedEx delays turn white Christmas into 'wait' Christmas

UPS and FedEx were unable to deliver some packages guaranteed for Christmas delivery on time. It's a holiday parable of how just-in-time logistics can sometimes go wrong.

Charlie Riedel/AP/File
A package handler arranges packages before loading a delivery truck at a FedEx sorting facility in Kansas City, Mo., earlier this month. Some packages didn't make it in time for Christmas this year due to shipping problems at UPS and FedEx.

For some Americans, it wasn’t so much a white Christmas as a “wait” Christmas. Thousands of families across the country found themselves without expected gifts on Dec. 25, due to shipping snarl-ups at companies including UPS and FedEx.

The problem: Thanksgiving came late this year, leading to a compressed holiday shopping season. Add in some bad winter weather, the increasing consumer shift from physical storefronts to online ordering, and the tendency of many shoppers to make decisions late in the game, and it was enough to thwart pledges of delivery by Christmas Day.

Most packages did arrive as expected, and it’s not yet clear how many holiday shipments have been held up. The postponed packages should largely arrive during the next couple of days, but the incident offers a window into an economy built around just-in-time logistics – and how it can break down due to glitches or unexpected demand.

The delays prompted reactions ranging from anger to forbearance by affected consumers. In lieu of the actual gifts, some Americans showed family members photos of the coming items or wrote apology notes.

"I've had to apologize to three different people when I thought I had everything wrapped up and good to go way before," Dallas resident Jeff Cormier told the Associated Press, citing packages in transit via UPS.

On Twitter, some consumers excoriated shipping companies for their failure to meet the demand. (Some consumers said delayed packages had been ordered as much as three weeks before Christmas.)

Others expressed patience or praise for workers in an industry that faces perennially heavy demand at this season.

And not a few saw the uproar as an indication of the true meaning of the holiday getting lost in a focus on material presents.

Shipping companies have responded with damage-control efforts.

UPS experienced heavy holiday volume and is making every effort to get packages to their destination as quickly as possible,” says a succinct message flagged on the shipping company’s home page.

Amazon.com, the website where legions buy online goods, is among the retailers caught in the crossfire. The company said it will cover the shipping costs for delayed items and offered $20 gift cards to affected customers.

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