Monday, December 23, 2013


This Christmas season may turn out to be a big setback for cyber-shopping. If you bought gifts on-line this year it is very likely that they will arrive late. And when the gift does arrive, don’t be surprised if it’s not exactly what you ordered. I don’t know what the actual service performance will turn out to be, but from what I’m hearing (and I talk to a lot of folks), it sounds like a third of all orders are late by at least two days or more. Furthermore, a lot of what has been shipped is the wrong stuff (size, color, model, quantity, etc.).

Weather is getting a lot of the blame and that’s probably a legitimate excuse. But I think we are also feeling the effects of a new and emerging logistics network that is still trying to figure out how to serve the e-commerce market. Increased demand + seasonal surge + weather + extended supply chains + marginal workforce + competitive cost pressure = late deliveries and bad orders.

Even when it is only two days late and the right product, it still feels sketchy. I’ll give you an example. We decided to buy an elliptical for Christmas. Its shipment from the east coast was managed by a leading 3PL and the white-glove home delivery/assembly contracted to a name-brand provider of such services. I had a tracking number and the order was set for delivery on the 17th. Then it got pushed back to the 18th. On the 18th we were called and told that it would be the 19th. When it showed up on the 19th, it was in the back of an unmarked pick-up truck. The driver and his helper were dressed, how should I put this…they were dressed very casually. But I could see that my elliptical was in the big box in the back of their little pick-up, plus they had the right paperwork.

As it turned out, the guys did a good job of putting the contraption together and seemed like decent fellows. They confirmed that they were independent contractors working for “the company”. And the company was a North Texas warehousing/delivery service that served as an agent for the “name-brand provider” who had been set-up by the “leading 3PL”. I realize that I live out in the frickin’ toolies; but when relatively expensive, white-glove service is provided by two homies in their unmarked pick-up truck, it just doesn’t feel right. Put a magnetic sign on the door. Give them a cap with a company logo. Make ‘em pull up their pants.

But hey, this order was only two days late and so far the product works great. Not the same can be said for several of the gifts my wife purchased. At least two of those that did arrive are just flat the wrong items. Four gifts are late and two will not arrive until well-after Christmas. Everything was purchased in plenty of time and the orders were pretty simple. But somewhere out there I just know there are over-worked, under-paid, un-motivated, poorly trained seasonal workers fumbling around to fill orders; while a thousand miles away a group equally over-worked, but well-paid, highly motivated executives try to figure out how to cut another penny per package out of their costs.

Contrary to the Nativity Scenes we often see, the Wisemen were not at the manger in Bethlehem with the newborn baby Jesus. Most scholars agree that it was much later, perhaps two years later, before they found Jesus and delivered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Who knows? Maybe faster and cheaper are not always better.

Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas. (And next year, let's all just go to the store and buy our gifts the old-fashioned way.)

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