Friday, January 3, 2014

Lots of blame to go around for holiday package debacle

The shoppers may not care, but the blame for delayed holiday packages should not fall squarely on UPS or FedEx.

Yes, UPS and FedEx made promises to their customers that packages would arrive just in time for Christmas if they were ordered by a certain date. And, of course, it didn’t happen for many.

The easiest thing to do for people who ordered packages was to point the finger at those who were supposed to make the deliveries. The Internet blew up with people giving it to the delivery companies. Some people went so far as to say the delays ruined or canceled their Christmases.

But let’s step back for a second and look at what could only be called a perfect storm.

For starters there was an actual storm. Ice and snow the likes of which many states were not equipped to handle swept across the entire U.S. in the days leading up to Christmas.

That alone could have made the promise of just-in-time deliveries unattainable.

But there are other factors, as well. The online surge by shoppers – likely escalated by the winter weather – cannot be ignored. The sheer volume of last-minute purchases put the squeeze on everybody who handled those packages.

Many of the largest online retailers – let’s take Amazon as an example – made lofty promises to their customers as well. Not just promises, guarantees that they had no control over once the package volume exceeded capacity and the winter weather set in.

Retailers and large shippers should also realize that truckers operate under strict hours-of-service rules. Whether they care or not is another story. Drivers worked their tails off during the season, and certainly would have been butting up against the regulatory clock.

Remember when it used to take four to six weeks for something to be delivered? Those days are long gone. People want their products now, and retailers and delivery companies are more than happy to make promises.

This whole debacle boils down to the promises being made on the backs of those who actually handle and deliver the freight at a time that volume exceeded capacity and Old Man Winter decided to get nasty.

So here we are, many apologies and refunds later, and things are more or less back to normal. At least until the next perfect storm happens.