Justin Londagin and his wife ordered their 7-year-old son a jersey of Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks from NFL's web site on Dec. 19. They paid $12.95 extra for two-day shipping to get it to their Augusta, Kan., home before Christmas, but it didn't arrive in time.
"We had to get creative and wrote him a note from Santa to tell him that the jersey fell out of the sleigh and Santa will get it to him as soon as he could," he said.
Amazon is offering customers with delayed shipments a refund on their shipping charges and $20 toward a future purchase. And other retailers such as Macy's said they are looking into the situation.
The last-minute surge this year solidifies the increasing popularity of online shopping, which accounts for about 10 percent of sales during the last three months of the year. It also underscores the challenges that companies face delivering on the experience, particularly during the holiday shopping season that runs from the beginning of November through December.
Analysts say FedEx and UPS typically work closely with big retailers to get a sense of the volume of packages they'll handle during peak times like the holiday season. Extra flights, trucks and seasonal workers can be added if the projections are large.
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But this year, David Vernon, a senior research analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, said weather played a role. The early December ice storms in Dallas could have hurt operations, he said, and packages can start to accumulate. And that got compounded by a late surge in shipments, he said.
"Clearly, as a group, (they) underestimated the demand for Internet retailing during the holidays," Vernon said.
Another problem was the growing popularity of retailers offering free shipping. Amazon, for one, has a two-day free shipping offer that comes with its $79 annual Prime membership. The company said in the third week of December alone, more than 1 million people signed up for the membership.