FedEx and UPS are scrambling to deliver packages on Thursday after bad weather and higher-than-usual online sales prevented the nation's two biggest shippers from delivering packages in time for Christmas.
Both shippers blamed delays on poor weather earlier this week in parts of the country as well as overloaded systems. The holiday shopping period this year was shorter than usual, more buying was done online and Americans' tendency to wait until the last possible second to shop probably didn't help either.
As a result, online retailers that guaranteed delivery before Christmas were unable in some cases to fulfill their promise. Amazon, Kohl's, Groupon and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. were among those that left some customers out of luck, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In a letter to an Amazon customer provided to NBC Bay Area, the retailer apologized for the "disappointment" as a result of a "failure in the UPS transportation network."
"We’ve refunded any shipping charges associated with your shipment," the letter said. "We’d also like to provide you with a $20 gift card to compensate for this inconvenience."
The blame reportedly went both ways. In the case of Amazon, UPS told some customers they had "not yet received the package from the shipper," according to the Journal.
But Amazon said in a statement that its packaged were all given to the respective delivery services on time.
"Amazon fulfillment centers processed and tendered customer orders to delivery carriers on time for holiday delivery," Amazon's statement said. "We are reviewing the performance of the delivery carriers."
Wal-Mart ran into its own problems over having guaranteed that some Black Friday doorbusters that sold out could be picked up in stores by Dec. 22, the Journal reported.
FedEX and UPS did not say how many of their packages were delayed, but the companies noted it was a small share of overall holiday shipments. While the bulk of consumers' holiday spending remains at physical stores, shopping online is increasingly popular and outstripping spending growth in stores at the mall.
"UPS is experiencing heavy holiday volume and making every effort to get packages to their destination; however, the volume of air packages in our system exceeded the capacity of our network immediately preceding Christmas so some shipments were delayed," United Parcel Service Inc. said in a service advisory online Wednesday.
UPS is not making pickups or deliveries Wednesday and plans to resume normally scheduled service Thursday.
Some FedEx customers are able to pick up packages Christmas Day at their local FedEx Express centers.
"We're sorry that there could be delays and we're contacting affected customers who have shipments available for pickup," said Scott Fiedler, a spokesman for FedEx Corp.
The company employs 300,000 who are solely focused on delivering packages during this holiday season to handle 275 million shipments, Fiedler said. Those that were not delivered in time, he said, "would be very few."
The problems appear to have impacted many parts of the country. The Associated Press spoke to people in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia and other states who didn't receive presents in time for Christmas.
Many were left with little or no time to make alternative plans.
Jeff Cormier and his Dallas family were among those whose gifts never arrived.
He had three separate UPS packages — including two for which he paid extra for expedited shipping — delayed.
"I've had to apologize to three different people when I thought I had everything wrapped up and good to go way before," Cormier said.
He and his wife are celebrating their baby daughter's first Christmas and flew in his grandmother from Ohio to join them. Her gift, a customized iPhone cover with a photo of her new great-granddaughter, didn't come in time for Christmas.
"My wife and I had our presents to open. Our daughter had her presents to open. And my grandma, she didn't have anything to open," Cormier said.
Three people told The Associated Press that when they tracked their packages online, FedEx said deliveries to their homes were attempted but failed because "the business was closed." During follow-up calls with customer service, they said they learned that the local depot was overwhelmed and didn't attempt delivery.
On Sunday, Eric Swanson ordered a doll for his daughter and a sweater for his wife through Amazon.com and one of its affiliated sites. As an Amazon Prime customer, there was a promise of two-day delivery, getting the gifts to his Carmichael, Calif. home just in time for Christmas. One was shipped via UPS, the other FedEx.
"I thought it would happen," Swanson said. Online tracking tools said the packages would arrive by 8 p.m. Tuesday. Neither did.
"My wife understands but my 5-year-old daughter ... I think we're going to let it be a surprise when it comes," Swanson said. "Next time, if I need to get a gift and cut it that close, I will just have to enter the fray and go to mall."