With More Online Shopping, Expect More Holiday Shipping Delays

As the volume of online orders surged, some retailers and package delivery companies were unable to fulfill promises to deliver gifts by Christmas. UPS acknowledged it was overwhelmed by all the late traffic. In response to complaints, Amazon says it is offering gift cards and refunds for shipping charges.

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Some Americans had to wait to open their Christmas gifts. That's because a surge in online shopping, mixed with some nasty weather, slowed down the delivery of some packages that had been promised by the 24th.

As NPR's Dan Bobkoff reports, many are showing up today.

DAN BOBKOFF, BYLINE: At Mariah Brinton's(ph) house in Mount Vernon, Maine, one child woke up yesterday realizing that she had not received the princess game on her wish list.

MARIAH BRINTON: They said: I didn't get it.

BOBKOFF: Brinton said it had been guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve.

BRINTON: But when something is guaranteed and it's not there, it's - the word guaranteed doesn't become a guarantee anymore.

BOBKOFF: Meanwhile, David Porter's father and stepmother in New York didn't get the books he sent them from Salt Lake City, though he's happy to take some of the blame.

DAVID PORTER: If I could've gotten my act together earlier, but I was definitely disappointed that it wasn't there.

BOBKOFF: Still, he says FedEx promised it would arrive on the 24th.

Sucharita Mulpuru is with Forrester Research.

SUCHARITA MULPURU: Every year we hear disappointment about people not getting stuff that they had expected on Christmas Day. And that usually - that number falls anywhere between 10 and 15 percent every year.

BOBKOFF: The online retailers and delivery companies won't say how many packages didn't make it time for Christmas. UPS said on its website that there were delays because volume exceeded its capacity. FedEx said in a statement that it had no major disruptions other than what it called isolated incidents.

Mulpuru says that while the percentage of the late gifts each year is fairly consistent, the total amount of online shopping is exploding, so more people are affected. Analysts had expected sales at online stores to increase about 15 percent over last year. But preliminary numbers from NPD Group show blowout with gains more like 24 percent year-over-year.

But Mulpuru, of Forrester, says everyone is to blame for the delays: retailers for pushing last-minute deals and not warning shipping companies; those same delivery companies for not penalizing retailers for doing that; and we, the shoppers.

MULPURU: You order something on Sunday night and expect it to get there on Monday or Tuesday during the busiest timeframe of the year. And to not pay anything extra for it is something that customers really need to have their expectations adjusted.

BOBKOFF: For its part, Amazon, the biggest online retailer, said orders were processed in time for holiday delivery - that's an implicit way of blaming the shipping companies. Nevertheless, it's offered as shipping refunds and gift cards to those who didn't get deliveries by Christmas. No one wants to be the Grinch.

Dan Bobkoff, NPR News, New York.

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