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Dec 26, 2014 3:08 PM

Holiday deliveries improve but hiccups continue

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) Christmas came on time this year for most people.

After FedEx and UPS failed to deliver some presents in time for Christmas last year, the two package carriers improved their performance this holiday season.

FedEx delivered more than 99 percent of express packages as promised on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, according to shipment tracker ShipMatrix. UPS delivered 99 percent of express packages as promised on those days.

Last year, the percentage of express packages delivered on time those days was in the "low 90s," said Mark D'Amico, a spokesman for ShipMatrix.

The firm did not have data for Christmas Eve deliveries as of Friday. It also does not provide data on packages that are sent using ground shipping, since those are not guaranteed to be delivered within a set time in the weeks before Christmas.

The improved performance comes after delays by FedEx and UPS last year were blamed on a mix of bad weather and overloaded systems, with more people shopping online. Neither company disclosed exactly how many packages were delayed a year ago, but said they represented a small share of overall holiday shipments.

To avoid similar headaches this year, FedEx and UPS invested in improving their systems and increased the number of seasonal workers they hired.

FedEx said Friday it was "proud" of its performance this season and UPS said its operations ran smoothly, "demonstrating the value of our additional investments in capacity and technology." Neither company provided details on how many deliveries were delayed or actually delivered this year.

Both big shippers expected to ship the most packages during this holiday season than ever before. FedEx had previously forecast it would ship 290 million packages between Black Friday and Christmas Eve. UPS had said it expects to ship 585 million packages in December.

The record forecasts come as retailers have been pushing back ordering deadlines and extending free shipping offers, increasing the pressure to get packages delivered in time for the Christmas. Amazon extended its free-shipping deadline by a day to Dec. 19. Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble and other retailers also said Dec. 19 was the cutoff to getting orders delivered by Christmas.

Overall, sales for the holiday shopping season are forecast to have climbed 5.5 percent from last year, according to a preliminary forecast issued Friday by MasterCard's SpendingPulse, which is based on aggregate sales activity on the MasterCard payments network and estimates for other payment forms, such as cash and check. The forecast does not provide an actual dollar figure.

The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, had previously said it expects sales for the season November and December to rise 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion.

The big shipping season did have some hiccups. Package carriers say they work with retailers to help avoid problems, but shipments from retailers continued to experience a few some problems, according to two reports.

The consulting firm Kurt Salmon analyzed 93 orders and said 13 percent didn't make it to shoppers in time for Christmas, a slight improvement from 15 percent last year. The firm said retailers were to blame for all this year's delays, with reasons including inventory issues and a failure of retailers to select guaranteed shipping methods even though they promised deliveries would be made by a certain date.

In some cases, Kurt Salmon said retailers may have underestimated how many packages it told shippers they expected to process for the holidays.

StellaService, a customer service tracker, also said it placed orders with 40 major retailers to different regions of the country. Of the 160 total orders it placed by the cutoff dates for delivery by Christmas, it said 10 did not arrive in time. One order placed with Staples was canceled without notification. A representative for Staples did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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