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.