The Grinch wore brown this Christmas.
Thousands of Americans awoke to find that special something missing from beneath the Christmas tree Wednesday, a day after UPS acknowledged getting swamped by the seasonal cheer and failing to deliver orders in time.
"The volume of air packages in our system exceeded the capacity in our network," UPS spokeswoman Natalie Godwin said in a statement.
Now, even as the company is lionized on the holiday cover of Bloomberg Businessweek for making "dreams come true," customers are streaming online to pummel the shipping giant.
"UPS SUCKS," wrote Kip Ingram in a post on the company's Facebook page, a short scroll from a "Happy Christmas" message from the company's delivery crew. "They just FAILED. SUCK, SUCK, SUCK!"
"Beyond angry," posted Susan Danielle Harrison. "We have not left the house all day & have been nervously pacing. This was supposed to be my son's big gift. Never showed up, thanks for nothing."
"I. WILL. NEVER. USE. UPS. AGAIN!" vowed Judie Larson on Twitter, which fluoresced with messages bearing the hashtag "UPSfail."
For some, the void under the tree came despite days of phone-and-Web wrangling with UPS customer service. In Houston, the Amaya family toggled between tracking their package online and waiting by the door for UPS to arrive. But after 10 days and two delays, they finally gave up hope.
"My kids and the rest of my extended family have no presents," a deflated Jill Amaya told NBC News.
Christmas is about more than just stuff, many posters acknowledged, but even some of the smaller, more symbolic gifts of Christmas got lost in transit.
Katherine McEachen of Fairfield, Conn., suffers from lupus and complications left her bedridden much of the fall, when she leaned heavily on her father for help. She recovered by the holidays and the family cut down a tree together, a moment McEachen recorded with a photo she arranged to have it put on a mug and shipped to her father, beneath the message, "I love you"— a message that has yet to arrive.
"UPS ruined my Christmas," McEachen told NBC. "It's just a mug, but it was supposed to be so special and it's the only way I can say those words to him."
"Can UPS Save Christmas?" reads an unfortunately timed headline on the cover of the current edition of Bloomberg Businessweek, which went out to the magazine's one million subscribers. The answer, evidently, was "no."
"UPS understands the importance of your holiday shipments," the company said in a Christmas Day statement on its website. "However, the volume of air packages in our system exceeded the capacity of our network immediately preceding Christmas so some shipments were delayed."
Amazon.com, one of UPS's biggest clients, cited UPS's "failure" in an apologetic email to customers Wednesday morning. UPS itself is on a condolences tour, telling NBC in a statement that only "a small percentage" of packages were affected and pledging that most of these will arrive by Thursday.
The last time a significant number of UPS packages were late for Christmas was 2004, when an ice storm crippled Worldport, the UPS distribution center in Louisville, Ky., in the run up to the holiday. Back then employees ended up manually loading packages for days, and surprising revelers with Christmas Day deliveries. This year the company declined to call its workers in for holiday service.
It's still unclear where the UPS network broke down, and the company has declined to specify the size of the problem. But Bloomberg Businessweek detailed the challenges likely to have stymied Santa's corporate helper this year — and spotlighted the man who may take a fall for the year's mishaps.
Scott Abell is known as "Mr. Peak" to the brown-shirted faithful, and he spends his whole work year outlining the company's holiday delivery plans, scrambling hundreds of planes and thousands of trucks from his office at Worldport.
Beyond icy weather, which reportedly hampered UPS distribution hubs, the company was likely squeezed by a smaller window for holiday shopping and a record number of e-purchases being pushed through at the last minute. There were just 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. At the same time, there was the continued growth of online shopping, which not only facilitates last-minute gifting but often rewards it with deeper discounts.
Online spending jumped 9 percent, to $37.8 billion, between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15, according to the online research firm comScore, and retailers expect overall holiday sales to be up nearly 4 percent, exceeding $600 million.
UPS anticipated delivering 132 million bundles in the week before Christmas, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, and to meet that wave of holiday cheer, Abell organized 55,000 part time workers, 23 extra planes and what amounts to a second fleet of delivery trucks.
A last-minute decision by one of UPS's clients — reportedly Amazon.com — dumped additional packages into the system last weekend, but Abell doubled the number of shifts at Worldport, still hoping to stay ahead. It wasn't enough.
Abell usually heads to Florida in January to play golf and decompress after the madness of the holidays. When he returns, the 31-year veteran of the company gathers his lieutenants for a special lemon session, detailing all that could have gone better in the weeks before.
Already he's taken a small personal step to alleviate his workload, telling his immediate family to go easy on the online shopping. "I tell them that they should do it early," he said, according to his magazine profile. "Early's better."
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