Small businesses squeezed in holiday shipping nightmare

Amazon has national logistics, but Whitney Vaughn’s shipments sit right next to the letter to Grandma

ROANOKE, Va. – It’s no secret that between employees out on COVID-19 leave, a surge in online shopping, and trying to get the COVID-19 vaccine rolled out, the United States Postal Service, FedEx and UPS are feeling the pinch.

Area small businesses are also feeling the pressure because while ordering from their websites is as easy as Amazon, they don’t have thousands of people working with dedicated shipping channels like national retailers do.

Whitney Vaughn knows this all too well with her online retail business Saved by Grace Co.

She’s a one-woman operation that just crossed $500,000 in sales and she does it all from her Roanoke home.

“Our house is a warehouse. We have boxes just stacked up everywhere,” Vaughn said. “The year that you would think it was going to like we were going to go under this year has been the biggest year you know that I could ever have even imagined.”

Vaughn has her mailman on speed dial... no we’re not exaggerating.

The orders are going out as quickly as she can make her products, but they’re not always making it from her front door to her customers’ front door.

“They’re going back to check their tracking. They’re excited. They want their package and it literally still says that it’s sitting at my house and it’s not,” Vaughn said.

Cue the hate mail.

Vaughn has been accused of fraud, threatened with bad reviews, and plagued with customers who say their packages never showed.

She said boxes are sitting in postal warehouses for weeks, and she’s just the little guy in the middle of the 2020 shipping disaster.

Vaughn insures her packages, but said customers don’t want to deal with the post office, they expect her to fix it.

“Then it comes off as I don’t care then they’re really angry, like, “You need to figure out where my package is,” as if I can just walk into the warehouse and sort through packages,” Vaughn said. “These people unfortunately just don’t get it. So mentally it is definitely hard, financially it is hard too because my heart, or my mentality, is that I want to make things right.”

She said it’s gotten significantly worse over the last two months, which times out with the USPS dealing with elections, short staffing, mass online shopping and then the normal holiday load. Now it’s starting to touch her family’s pockets too. Major retailers have some space in the budget for refunds and returns, Vaughn doesn’t.

“But then I start to feel bad, these people are angry at me so then I refund them, they end up getting the package eventually, so they end up getting the package and the refund,” Vaughn said.

Now at the top of her website it clearly says to expect delays. She also sent out a mass mailer to her customers and followers to let them know about the problems.

Even with that, she said there are some days she just wants to quit, but then digs her heels in deeper to persevere.

“Mentally and financially, it has taken a toll, and I’ve lost a lot of customers that way, I’ve lost customers, gotten bad reviews, and taken that financial hit,” Vaughn said.