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The Post Office Has Turned Amazon Into The Worlds Worst Brick and Mortar Retail

For some time, Amazon has been cutting delivery costs by using the United States Post Office as their “last mile” delivery force.  Amazon gets the packages to a Post Office distribution center, and USPS gets it to your house.  The deal is meant to save Amazon money, because the post office is significantly cheaper than UPS or FedEx for last-mile, and save the post office by infusing them with customers in the face of declining first-class mail.  In fact, a post office employee once told me that this was basically the new strategy – use the big logistics companies, Fed-Ex and UPS, for inter-state shipping, and leverage the mail carriers, who have to go door to door everyday anyways, to finish the job.

Except in doing so, Amazon has turned what was once an extremely convenient e-commerce service into the world’s worst brick-and-mortar retail experience, at least for this customer.  Let’s look at one recent case to see how.

A few weeks ago, in time for Thanksgivukkah, my girlfriend ordered me a copy of Ticket to Ride from Amazon.  Everything from ordering through shipping went normal, until we never got the package.  This week, she checked the tracking number, and the last message was from December 1st saying “Delivery Attempted.”

When UPS or FedEx attempts a delivery, they leave a note on your door letting you know when they’ll be back, and giving you a number to call to make other arrangements.  On occasion, I’ve had a similar note from USPS in my mailbox, especially for certified letters, but for packages I’d say it’s a coin toss as to whether they’ll even let me know (this time, it came up tails).  We live in an apartment  building with a locked exterior door, so FedEx and UPS will usually just leave the package near our door.  Not the case with USPS, which needs you to physically take possession (although strangely, not sign for it).

And this is where the fun begins.  The post office only delivers packages once, during the day, at a random time.  I’ve had them ‘attempt delivery’ and not leave a package when I was home, which makes me think that they only sporadically try my buzzer.  So once they skip miss you the first time, you’re left trying to hunt down your package.

The first step to hunting down your package is to try your tracking number.  Unfortunately, tracking a package with USPS is like navigating with a sextant in the clouds.  You know you have a tool that’s supposed to tell you exactly where you are, but the most precision it can give you is “you are somewhere on earth.”  In our case, that was a “Delivery Attempted” message that didn’t tell us when delivery was attempted, how, or when it would be attempted again (it wouldn’t).

So now we got to visit the Post Office, which is where they hold packages that had delivery attempted but not completed.   Remember how you shopped on Amazon so that you wouldn’t have to visit a store, leave work, and wait in line?  That’s not the case anymore.  Now you get to visit a place where service and efficiency are so well-renown, it’s used as a go-to example for bad service and efficiency.

Unlike retail stores that want to capture shoppers when they’re available, the post office is only open during normal work hours – my local branch is from 7:30AM to 7PM.   So if you want to pick up your package, you have to take time off of work, which as turned ordering from Amazon into the workplace equivalent of a doctor’s appointment.

But our story gets better, because once you get to the post office, it’s not a place that prides itself on speed and ease of use.  In fact, second to the DMV, it’s probably the place most often cited as tortuous to deal with.  So now you get to wait while the old lady in front of you pays for stamps in pennies, the crazy guy (who was probably sane when he got in line) rants about how he wants his packages there yesterday, and the person who doesn’t speak English tries to apply for a passport from the wrong window.  And when you get to the front, you’re dealt with by a someone who’s annoyed that you ruined their workday by, you know, making them work.

So now, thanks to the convenience of Amazon, instead of picking something up from any of the literally hundreds of stores dotting a commute home in Manhattan, we’ve paid for the opportunity to wait four days and pick it up from one specific, out of the way location that’s not open in the evening, has awful service, unreasonably long lines, and doesn’t communicate to you that they even have the product in stock.  What a great bargain!

And I wish this was the only time this happened, but it’s becoming a pattern.  I’ve had packages disappear into the ether when the Post Office reported them delivered, even though I never received them.  It took Amazon five days to reship it, which turned Prime’s “2-day Shipping” into “2 week shipping.”  And I’ve found out about “redelivery attempts” from the note that told me it failed.  It makes me excited for Amazon’s new drone delivery force – at least cutting the post office out of the loop will mean I actually get my order.

Space Shuttle Enterprise on Land, Sea, and Air

This morning, as the space shuttle Enterprise (OV101) moved up the Hudson river, I realized I’ve now seen Enterprise on land, sea, and air – every medium through which it has traveled, and taken a picture of it.  For reference, here are photos of all three:

First up, a picture on land, where I saw Enterprise at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Udvar Hazy Center back in 2006.

Enterprise at the Udvar Hazy center

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I caught the shuttle flying over New York before landing at JFK.  I saw Discovery fly over DC as well, but don’t have pictures.

Enterprise flying over New York

And finally, this morning I got to see Enterprise travel up the Hudson to its new home at the Intrepid Museum.

Enterprise on the Hudson

Now the only thing I missed was seeing a space shuttle from space (although Enterprise never actually flew into orbit).  In a few weeks, I’ll be able to see it at it’s new home at the Intrepid Museum, so that I can say I saw it on Land, Sea, and Air all in New York.

Do Kids Care If We Stick Their Robot Friend in the Closet?

Some researchers decided to figure out how kids viewed friendly robots – are they people? animals? things? some new thing in between?

The session involves a game of “I Spy,” a guessing game where Robovie gives the child verbal clues to help them locate objects around the room. After the game is finished, Robovie asks for a hug, which is another one of those bonding moments, and then the game is played again, this time with the child giving clues and Robovie guessing the objects. Here’s where things get interesting: in the middle of this phase of the game, an adult experimenter enters the lab and cuts the game short with some consequences for Robovie.

Overall, 80 percent of the participants felt that Robovie was intelligent, and 60 percent thought that Robovie had feelings. At the same time, over 80 percent believed that it was just fine for people to own and sell Robovie. Hmm. Only 50 percent of the children felt that it was not all right to put Robovie in the closet, although close to 90 percent agreed with Robovie that it wasn’t fair to put it in the closet and it should have been allowed to at least finish the game it was playing. 

Mentally, I know that the robot is just a thing – I even know that there’s a person controlling it.  Still, it’s disconcerting to force something into a closet while it’s actively asking you not to.  It has to be worse for kids, who are used to anthropormophocizing their completely inanimate toys.

Even more, including a video of Robovie and a teenager, over at IEEE Spectrum:  Do Kids Care If Their Robot Friend Gets Stuffed Into a Closet?


Where’d your blog go?

This is the first post in what I’m hoping will be a more frequently updated online presence.  I don’t know what the new blog will look like, but I’m fairly confident it’ll be different than the last iteration, which started when I was in graduate school, and radically different from my first blog, which garnered thousands of visits per month from high school kids looking to update their AIM profiles (what they used before facebook).  Some things you might see: business and management, ice cream, technology, and cool things made out of Lego.  Or maybe not, I’m not really sure yet.  Hi Mom.