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Ecommerce Game of Chicken Leads to Disappointed Shoppers

Retailers and marketplaces extended shipping cutoff dates to entice last-minute shoppers in a game of chicken, which they ultimately lost. Shipping carriers were unable to keep up with demand from online retailers, including Amazon, this holiday season as consumers took advantage of heavily promoted deals in the final weeks and days before Christmas. There was no letup on emails and promotions from retailers who promised last-minute shoppers they would get orders by Christmas Eve, an apparent breakdown in communication between shipping carriers and retailers and online marketplaces.

Online sellers had been complaining about slow mail on the last weekend before Christmas, and some had blamed the postal service’s cost-cutting measures on delays. But by Christmas Eve, when UPS announced it would be unable to deliver all packages by the end of the day, it became apparent this was not just a problem for the USPS.

The Wall Street Journal picked up the story on Christmas Day, reporting that the unexpected surge of online orders combined with bad weather, glitches and late deliveries from manufacturers led to the failure of on-time deliveries.

UPS placed the following message on its website on Christmas Eve:

UPS understands the importance of your holiday shipments. All of our drivers are out making deliveries throughout the day and into the evening. The volume of air packages in our system exceeded the capacity of our network as demand was much greater than the forecast, resulting in some shipments being delayed. We expect a vast majority of these packages will be delivered the day after Christmas. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience. For the most-up-to date information, click here to track your specific shipment’s progress on UPS.com.

The company updated the announcement on Christmas Day, stating it was not making pickups or deliveries that day and would resume normally scheduled service on December 26.

There were no announcements on the FedEx Service Alerts page, although the Journal said some consumers were reporting missing deliveries from the carrier, and there were no updates on the USPS service alerts page either.

How online marketplaces will deal with any negative feedback ratings for third-party sellers due to shipping delays has yet to be seen.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.