Controversial

Delivery Delays Claim Christmas Casualties

Just about every retailer entered the 2015 holiday shopping season beating their chests with increasingly ambitious shipping options for hard-to-please consumers. This year may go down as one where shoppers finally developed an expectation for same-day and express delivery, and such a dramatic change didn’t come without its fair share of retail casualties.

The Wall Street Journal reported that several high-profile brands had to spend the days leading up to Christmas Eve informing expectant customers that their packages would be delayed. Pacific Sunwear started their apology tour on the 23rd with an email to anyone who had placed an order with guarantees of Christmas delivery.

“FedEx is experiencing a backlog that is delaying standard shipments by several days or even weeks. All online merchants are affected, and not just PacSun,” the company told shoppers, per The WSJ. “Destinations in the northeast United States are being impacted the most.”

Though a FedEx spokesman explained that the carrier is handling an expected surge in online orders during the final days leading up to Christmas, part of that may be due to harsh yet apparently necessary shipping volume limits The WSJ said it is placing on certain retailers that were expected to drive late-season sales.

One UPS spokesman said that his carrier was operating at a 98-percent accuracy rate.

That might be becoming more of the exception than the rule if the lessons from this holiday shopping season hold true. The WSJ’s Digits blog reported on Jet.com’s high-profile pre-Christmas delivery fiasco, where the once-up-and-coming online marketplace had to painfully announce about a week before Christmas that it could no longer guarantee prompt delivery for millions of items on its site.

“This is an industry-wide issue,” a Jet spokesman told Digits. “[Jet] did go above and beyond letting customers know, early, in an effort to be responsible and transparent.”

Admitting fault and remainder open to reconciliation might help with customer complaints every other time of the year, but that kind of neutral response isn’t likely to assuage frustrated, present-less shoppers. Every holiday shopping season, brands have just one opportunity to satisfy consumer demands through timely deliveries — and just as crucial an opportunity to ruin relationships with millions of customers. As online orders continue to scale, so do these growing pains moments that retail clearly has not yet passed out of.

That doesn’t mean that brands are at the mercy of carriers to figure out a better way  before they lose all their customers. While they might not be a traditional brick-and-mortar brand, the decidedly retail Amazon has been making strides to establish itself in its own kind of self-owned shipping service. The WSJ broke down all the ways that Amazon has been throwing resources and development time behind in the race to avoid its carriers’ ever-increasing shipping rates. Not only has Amazon deployed fleets of branded trucks on American streets, but it’s also been deepening ties with other companies like Uber engaged in the sharing economy and on-demand services.

But of course, this all comes on top of a highly publicized video announcing updates to Amazon’s drone delivery program that landed just a few weeks ago.

Does this put Amazon on the same capability-wise with the carriers it’s subtly seeking to replace? Not at the moment, but at least flashy displays of soon-to-come technology has a better chance of putting a smile on customers’ faces right before they open the email letting them know they’d have a one or two fewer presents to put under the tree this Christmas.

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