Holiday spirit turned to rage today as irritated consumers dealt with a third day of broken promises while UPS, the world's largest package delivery company, staggered to recover from a holiday crush that caught the service unprepared and left thousands of people short of gifts under their Christmas trees.
UPS sorters worked Christmas afternoon and evening to load planes at UPS' air hub in Louisville. Even so, UPS said, some packages that were promised to arrive before Christmas wouldn't arrive until Friday.
"We have our drivers out delivering today. We're making every effort to get all the packages delivered," UPS spokeswoman Natalie Godwin said Thursday.
Godwin said "nearly all" the delayed packages would be delivered Thursday.
The company, which delivers more than 16 million packages a day to 220 countries, had expected an 8% increase for the peak holiday season.
"Demand was much greater than forecast," Godwin said.
Online retailers nationwide lured customers to buy holiday gifts just two days before Christmas with promises that their purchases would arrive by Christmas Eve.
Retailers have been pushing their delivery deadlines so close to Christmas that it gave consumers a "false sense of security," says retail brand strategy expert Ken Nisch.
The snafus will make consumers think twice next holiday season about relying on late deliveries and could boost the popularity of "buy online, ship to store" options that many stores offer, says Nisch, chairman of JGA, a retail design and strategy firm that represents clients including Macy's, Godiva and The North Face.
Retailers will have to reconsider next year whether to make delivery promises that they can't control, Nisch said.
Meanwhile, retailers scrambled to track their customers' delayed packages.
"We are working with FedEx and UPS to understand the situation," Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski said. "So far, it appears only a small number of Macy's deliveries were affected."
Amazon, the No. 1 online retailer in the week before Christmas as measured by Experian Marketing Services, said it fulfilled its end of the bargain by packing its shipments and delivering them to the carriers "on time for holiday delivery," spokeswoman Mary Osako said.
"We are reviewing the performance of the delivery carriers," Osako said.
Amazon refunded shipping charges for the delayed packages and offered customers a $20 gift card for the inconvenience, she said.
Godwin said she could not comment on how many packages the company failed to deliver on time or how many packages would be delayed an additional day. She said consumers should refer to the company's online tracking notification system.
Customers reported that UPS repeatedly missed the delivery dates shown on the tracking system. About 6 million UPS customers subscribe to a notification system called UPS My Choice.
"If their update says it's going to get delivered on Friday, then it's going to get delivered on Friday," Godwin said.