With Amazon, UPS and FedEx in post-Christmas damage control after thousands of gifts were not delivered by the 25th, it's time for e-tailers, shippers and third parties to make a New Year's resolution to avoid a repeat going forward.

And while countless customers got their goods before the annual holiday gift-fest, many others thought it took far longer than was advertised on e-tailer websites. This is proof positive that all parties – e-tailers, parcel carriers, vendors and customers – have much to learn from this hardly merry mess-up.


Don't wait til late!

Though e-tailers promise workable delivery intervals for online purchases, it doesn't pay to procrastinate when shopping online. The deals you may get by waiting til Black Monday or later can be negated if the items aren't received when needed. Last-minute web shopping is risky business as actual shipping/delivery intervals vary, like the weather in the Northeast.

Many online shoppers pay extra for expedited shipping or sign up for Amazon Prime service for its shipping guarantees.

The posted shipping ranges often only tell part of the purchase-to-receipt undertaking because the shortest path between two points is rarely a direct line. That's because life post-purchase is a multi-entity, multi-step process.

The Pre-Shipping Process

When websites say 3-5 business days for delivery, don't start counting after you purchase your items. I'm not an expert, but I've learned that that interval doesn't include the time it takes for the e-tailer to get the order to its vendor partner, warehouse or fulfillment center. Then that party needs to get the purchased product(s) to the shipper for delivery.

Note: A "pending order processing" status means your item(s) haven't shipped yet.

And that interval doesn't include weekends. It could take a few days before the order is received, processed and shipped, especially during the busiest of shopping seasons. THEN, you can start the 3-5 business day clock.

Making Deliveries

E-tailers use different parcel delivery firms, most all of which provide tracking numbers and status updates for gift buyers. They can be helpful and/or frustrating depending on your specific situation. There are also often multiple steps along the delivery process depending on where your purchases are shipped from.

If your order requires a customer signature and you aren't home, your delivery will not be left behind. You'll need to go get it yourself locally or try to be available for a second attempt. This obviously adds time to the process of getting packages in your hands.
Skipping the signature step can result in deliveries being left inside your outer door or mailbox depending on the carrier.

Extending Your Work Day

If you wait til relatively late to buy online, checking order status, tracking numbers and dealing with customer service agents for multiple items bought from multiple sites can become a nerve-racking, part-time job at a time when many are already multitasking in high gear (work, vacation, travel, kids and year-end to do list issues.)

A "B" Plan and Explan.

While a backup plan may eliminate the value of shopping online, it's a good idea for children and others who don't understand why Santa didn't bring them their gift for Christmas. Older age groups are far more likely to understand your explanation that their gift hasn't arrived yet because it was bought online and delivery didn't come through in time. Waiting an extra day or two isn't life or death for some, especially when you're rendered powerless to do anything else.

For E-tailers

Be very aware that although you handled the purchases and handed them off to parcel carriers, your brand takes the hit when something goes awry. Customers get upset at Amazon and other sites, not their vendor partners or shipping third parties, when gifts aren't in customers' hands when they expect.

With that in front of mind, e-tailers need to work more closely with these partners to ensure customer expectations are met. They would also be well-advised to explain under the 3-5 day business claim what the actual expected delivery interval will be based on the entire process, and NOT in fine print. Educate!

And plan accordingly, especially with your delivery partners. Pushing more items through the same size pipeline is a recipe for problems. It's probably better in the long run for an e-tailer to say "can't do it" to a shopper than take a purchase and risk a dissatisfied customer not likely to return down the road.

Setting realistic, real-world expectations for customers would help minimize or eliminate dissatisfaction and/or confusion about actual delivery times for gifts they bought for love ones for enjoyment on Christmas day.

For UPS, FedEx etc.

Learn from last week's mess and plan for beyond peak delivery demand.

Apologies may be cheap, but they often mean little or nothing to spurned online buyers, especially in and around the yearend holidays.

Carriers claiming they were "overwhelmed" may be true, but they weren't blindsided. Many weeks ago, FedEx in Massachusetts was grabbing up all the trucks they could from car rental firms and slapping FedEx signage on the side to augment their fleet. I doubt this was an isolated activity.

And last Friday, the carriers put some of the blame on the shortened shopping season. While a shorter season made for a larger challenge, the fact that everyone with and many without calendars new far in advance that it would be a shorter shopping season knocks that blame game element out of the park.

Who knows how much overtime delivery firms such as UPS paid drivers to try and avoid the Christmas Eve/Day admissions that thousands of parcels would not arrive in time for Christmas.

If they haven't already, parcel delivery firms needs to plan for high plateaus well beyond Black Monday, especially given the amount of late in the game shopping that takes place (some of which is driven by e-tailer emails claiming the availability of last-minute deals in time for the holidays. Clearly, it takes two (or more entities) to tango.

The Bottom Line

Brand damage is tough to repair, and when legislators get involved in a negative that impacts thousands of families, and the mess continues on, customers even in a short-attention span world have a distasteful memory they will retain well beyond this season.

Bestowing trust in any entity only to have it broken is especially painful. Explanations and excuses fall on deaf ears, or simply anger customers more.

Given that actions do speak far louder than words, tightening links with top tier business partners is paramount as is educating the consumer masses on the realities of e-tailing. Providing realistic delivery intervals should top sellers' list for the New Year.

Offering impacted customers something of value (and free) that brings them back to the site for a better experience should help after the e-tailer-delivery link is strengthened. Amazon late last week agreed to issue gift cards to some of those affected. Great idea, but better to overreach than have some wondering why aren't included.

Customers can be forgiving, but in this case they need to be given an incentive of value to start that process. Otherwise, expecting repeat business and trust, especially from first-time online shoppers and first-time visitors to e-commerce sites, is a reach.

Those e-tailers that stick with the out-of-sight, out-of-mind view after passing orders to partners and other outside entities risk losing sight of their customers.

New Year's resolution: Corrective action for a far better customer experience, all year round.