While it wasn’t intentional, UPS and FedEx played the collective role of a real life Grinch this Christmas. That’s because the carriers failed to deliver many packages on time for the holiday. The backlogs were apparently due to poor weather and a spike in last-minute online shopping that was not properly accounted for. As you might expect, the companies’ social media channels were inundated with complaints.

While customers who expected their packages on time wouldn’t have been entirely pleased regardless of an earlier heads up, communication (or lack thereof) appears to have played a major role in the backlash. If UPS and FedEx had gotten out in front of the situation, had fessed up sooner that some packages wouldn’t arrive in time for Christmas, it might have mitigated the public relations disaster the carriers now face. Making matters worse for UPS, some customers of “Brown” said they received tracking notices stating their packages had been delivered. But they weren't.

This left retailers whom entrust these two carriers with their packages also scrambling to respond to angry customers. All in all, they seem to be doing a very good job of dealing with their disappointed clientele. Here are, what we believe, the most noteworthy examples of crisis communications in response to this Christmas Day Calamity.

  • Kohl’s had the most impressive response of all. It announced it would pay the full cost of all items not delivered on time. “We are deeply sorry for disappointing our customers expecting delivery in time for Christmas,” a statement read. This is quite a remarkable gesture when you consider this wasn’t Kohl’s fault. I would wager that the department store chain will pick up some loyal customers as a result of the generous move.
  • Amazon refunded any shipping charges and provided a $20 gift card. Amazon was also very clear in assigning any blame customers might have placed at the feet of the online retail giant. In an email, they cited a “failure in UPS transportation network” and insisted its own fulfillment centers processed orders in time for holiday delivery. 
  • According to The Wall Street Journal, Groupon Inc. sent a $25 gift certificate to those who would not receive their promised on-time delivery. While that’s certainly commendable, one recommendation the company made was not: that customers should print out a picture of their present in lieu of the gift. While this might seem harmless, it appears to trivialize the late deliveries and probably qualifies Groupon to be poked fun at on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Report.

So it turns out retailers might not be completely without blame here. Apparently, many of them extended their cutoff date to get packages to their destinations by the 24th at the last minute. Such schedules would normally be coordinated with the carriers, according to Customer Growth Partners LLC. It’s unclear if that happened this year.