This post is for buyers and sellers of goods through the mail, specifically those sending or receiving their goods via USPS using Delivery Confirmation. I'm putting it here in the midst of my Classic Movie articles because despite all of the information I try to give you in that regard this is primarily an ecommerce site and I always ship via USPS.
I wouldn't be writing about this except it's now happened twice in the span of a few weeks. I know this won't be news to some of my more experienced e-commerce friends, but my hope is that it is found by buyers of all levels and sellers who haven't experienced it and hopefully it will save them a few moments of panic. I've got 11 years of online selling under my belt and have shipped somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 packages in that time yet both of these incidents still made me nervous.
Thankfully in each case the buyer on the other end of my transaction was a repeat customer whom I'd already had an established relationship with. I was (hopefully) able to make them feel better about the outcome of our transaction in advance of their actually receiving the package because there was already some level of trust established, but I can only imagine how badly the next time might go if such an incident occurs with a brand new customer who doesn't yet have any reason for trust beyond my reputation.
Simply put, USPS Delivery Confirmation is meaningless. I suppose many of you know that, but I don't think as many are aware of why I'm going to say it's useless. First here's what I suspect you think: the tracking offered by the USPS with their Delivery Confirmation service offers no protection to the buyer or seller of the goods unless the package is insured. Without insurance the USPS doesn't want to talk to you. I know, I've been told exactly that in phone conversations before.
But that's not the problem here.
One other common Delivery Confirmation complaint which is not the specific problem I'm working up to, but is a symptom of that problem, is the fact that information on the Delivery Confirmation web pages is generally not updated until after the package is delivered. If you haven't received your package yet and are wondering where it is, chances are that when you type that Delivery Confirmation number into the USPS website the only information you're going to see is that the package was scheduled for pick-up in your seller's local home town and if you're lucky you may be somewhat soothed by a second line declaring that the package was checked into your seller's local post office later that same day or the following day. The few times that I've seen any further update prior to actual delivery have only been when there are problems with the delivery: for instance it reaches the buyer's home town post office and then no further information is posted for a week as the package is trapped in some sort of postal purgatory.
My specific problem though, and again, I've had this happen twice in the past several weeks is when Delivery Confirmation states DELIVERED and correctly lists the buyer's home town, state and zip with a time of delivery. In these two recent instances the package was not yet received by my buyers. Now I'm assuming this has happened more than twice to me, but I notice that in both of these cases the orders were for amounts in the $80-$120 range and so my buyers were very likely more anxious to know where their goods were than somebody who bought something for $5. They understandably followed the tracking, after all, that's what it's there for, no?
I say no and I say it emphatically after these two experiences.
Compare the USPS Delivery Confirmation to UPS tracking. I've been at my desk and tracked a UPS package that was listed as being "Out for Delivery" that day. I've heard someone at my door and rather than getting up to check the mail I've simply refreshed my UPS tracking screen and seen that the package is now listed as "Delivered." I get up and lo and behold, there's my delivered package. The UPS driver actually scanned the package when he dropped it on my stoop and throughout my package's UPS journey it has been physically scanned at every stop along the way keeping me apprised of its exact whereabouts if I decide to check the tracking before it arrives.
Now I've never worked for nor seen the inside track of any package on a UPS or USPS route so please keep in my mind that what follows is my assumption, but one I feel pretty sure about. The USPS isn't scanning their packages nearly as often and by my best guess what has happened with each of my packages confirmed as delivered, but nowhere to be found by the buyer, is that they are scanned when they either arrive at the buyer's local post office or perhaps when they are sorted and loaded onto the truck for delivery that day. Whatever point it occurs this final scan is coming before actual delivery yet it is stating that the package is not only "Out for Delivery" but "Delivered." If my buyer's mail carrier has a heavy load that day it might not be delivered.
In both of my recent cases of missing packages I was able to take a deep breath and tell my buyer that I was nearly certain they'd receive their package the very next day. Thankfully in both cases I was absolutely correct.
This is not fair to either the person sending the package or receiving the package. Can you imagine waiting for your $100 purchase, see the official USPS site says you should have it, yet you have nothing? I'd be pretty upset and yes, my buyers were upset. Thankfully in each instance they realized this was the post office's fault and not mine, but in each case they were already pretty sure that they were never going to see their goods. It's unfair to the sender because in my personal case, despite being rather sure the packages would arrive the next day, my position is that a buyer who pays me must receive their goods. Well, my packages were uninsured, so if they didn't eventually show up guess who's going to lose money? Here's a hint, not the USPS.
The only reasons I pay for Delivery Confirmation is because the charge is minimal and I believe that nearly 100% of the time it gives piece of mind to both myself and my customer in that we can come close to pinpointing where our package is in its journey. While I was actually aided by the incorrect Delivery information the USPS gave in these two recent examples, it's not a good sign that the only reason I knew what was going on was because I was so sure of their incompetence*. I was only able to decipher the code because I knew the service is broken! My two buyers, bless 'em, stayed with me because of my reputation and despite the USPS's reputation and to be honest I'm not sure either really believed me until their package showed up the next day!
*I will add that despite problems such as this my experience is that the USPS does manage to eventually get everything where it has to go. It's just that the journey is not sometimes without trepidation and in the examples of this post, needlessly so.
I don't want this post to seem like another empty complaint so I will offer two suggestions for USPS and their Delivery Confirmation service:
1) Scrap it
2) Fix it.
After this happened for the second time this weekend I figured I either really hit the jackpot in being the only guy who's had this problem not once, but twice, or far more likely others are seeing it too. I post this simply to offer an explanation to buyer and seller alike that all will most likely be well tomorrow. Sellers if you experience a false Delivery Confirmation please feel free to send your buyer here to read about what likely happened--it might help calm things down and I do like the traffic to my site.
A final unrelated word. I don't want this post to be taken as a complete criticism of the USPS or especially its mail carriers--in fact I absolutely love my own mail carrier. I've used the USPS all these years for all of those thousands of packages because I feel they are the best shipping solution for my needs. Doesn't mean that they're perfect. Making Delivery Confirmation mean something would be a great step towards an overall better service. After all, the packages are being scanned, I'm just asking the proper information actually be relayed along the way.