Shipping Frustration and the Holiday Season

Like many people I used Amazon and other online services for my holiday shopping. I am an Amazon Prime subscriber and have come to rely on free two day shipping. I have had really good experiences with buying online including Christmases past. It seems that this year the shipping companies had a little trouble delivering what Amazon was selling… literally. I’m not going to belabor the trouble that these shipping companies have had delivering the onslaught of last minute shoppers like myself. I do want to point out an opportunity missed for good customer service in the light of a bad situation with the short anecdotes from my experience this year.

The first take does not even involve Christmas presents but dog food. I buy my pets’ food online because it is less expensive for the mail-carrier to drag the increasingly smaller bags of kibble to my door than it is for me to go to the store in town. If that’s the economic model they want, so be it. I had the misfortune of ordering the dog food just before the big Dallas ice storm. From what I can gather there must have been some damage to the distribution center in Mesquite because my package sat there for 12 days. The shipping status remained unchanged for several days before changing to a message about previous network interruption due to weather conditions. The message went on to say that I should visit the shipping company’s web site for more information. When I went to the shipping web site there was no mention of the interruption. I tried calling and talked to a nice representative who expressed the appropriate amount of empathy. She told me that the packages were stuck on trucks and they were working through them as quickly as possible. At work I heard that this problem was widespread however I did not see any note of it in the media. I saw delivery drivers running around in rented vans instead of their regular brown ones just trying to keep up. I had two packages caught in the melee. I was able to buy pet food locally. For another package I ordered a second one from Amazon. The second one arrived before the original order in time for Christmas. I’m not complaining about the network interruption and the delay of delivery. My complaint is about the lack of communication from the company. The company had an opportunity to get ahead of the story and share the challenge with the public.

My second story involves the same carrier. I returned home on Christmas eve to find three packages waiting for me since the previous Friday. These three packages were not addressed to me. The carrier put them on my front porch and marked them as delivered. I tried contacting the neighbor. I tried contacting the carrier. The frustrating thing about this experience was the inability to reach the carrier. Their phone system was in siege mode. I got a recording that said they were really busy and then hung up on me. I did not find a way to reach the carrier to report the problem. The intended recipient has no recourse with the shipper because the shipping company marked the packages as delivered to front porch on Friday. I eventually left the packages on the neighbor’s front porch where they eventually reached their intended recipient. What I wanted was a way for the shipper’s web site to allow a person to report an exception to a package delivery. I did not find any such mechanism on their site.

The final case involves my local mail carrier. I had a package that was to be delivered Christmas eve. The regular mail came and there was no package. The status remained “out for delivery”. I was home in my living room when at 6pm the shipping status changed to “left notice”. I checked my front door and there was no notice. There was nothing in the mailbox. There had been no traffic on my cul-de-sac for hours and we have a clear view the length of the road. On the day after Christmas the package status did no change. When the mail carrier came I walked out and asked if there were a package for me. The carrier said that a second person was working the packages and described the situation as a mess. When I asked about the “left notice” status the carrier said that they probably just ran out of time. So I guess that explains it. When 6 o’clock rolled around, everyone went home and changed the status to “left notice”. This act removes the liability from the shipper and the shipping company and shifts the blame onto the recipient. My package had first class with tracking, did not require a signature and would have easily fit in my mailbox. I have no recourse with the shipper for the late delivery. Yesterday I made half-hour the trek to the post office to inquire about my package. I gave my name, address, phone number and the tracking number. The person at the counter could not find my package but would give me a call when they did. I also got part of a story about a mail-carrier with a broken arm and the other carriers stepping in to help cover the route. That all sounded reasonable. My condolences to the injured person. I got a call a couple hours later, and returned to the Post Office to pick up my package. My complaint is about the use of their tracking system. If you have an exception case, then use the exception status. Do not lie and change the status to “left notice” when you never did. That probably would have a negative fiscal impact on that office. I’m sorry, but that more accurately describes the situation. When you pay for a service, you expect to receive that service.

As more commerce moves online, the shipping companies’ burden will increase. We need to be able to trust them and we need good communication of status. All the major companies have status notification systems that work great when the logistics are all working smoothly. When there is a network disruption, we as the consumers, need better notification to manage our expectations.

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