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With 3 Billion Packages to Go, Online Shopping Faces Tough Holiday Test

“I don’t know how it could be as unexpected as it appears to have been,” said Tom Nolan, the brand’s president. “We are not getting what we were told we would get when we embarked on our holiday season.”

Mr. Nolan said the delays were particularly frustrating because customers tended to blame the brands, rather than the shipping companies. “We’re paying a fee to a shipping provider to hold them to the expectations we have,” he said.

Kendra Scott employees scrambled, including moving goods to some of its 100-plus stores and warehouses that were closer to certain customers. But Mr. Nolan was uncertain about how the rest of the month would look.

“We’re trying to work that out now and anticipate, coming closer to the holidays, is this going to get better or going to get worse?” he said. “This is not a free service that we’re talking about. We pay a premium to get this done effectively, and the expectation is that it’s done effectively.”

One retailer that sells apparel and accessories has already been grappling with UPS’s capacity restrictions and surcharges, which can add several dollars to a package and increase its overall cost by 25 to 40 percent, according to two company executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retaliation from UPS.

The parcel limits were based on holiday volumes from last year, even though many more people are shopping online this year. Once a day’s quota is reached, remaining parcels must be pushed to the next day, the executives said, a move that can then snowball into other days.

Over all, delays have been relatively minimal so far, analysts say. A UPS representative said the carrier was “delivering previously agreed upon, collaboratively planned package volume, but there are limits on unplanned volume until we have capacity in our network that we can steer it toward.”

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