Maybe You Shouldn’t Call It A “Guarantee”

I’ve been using the United States Postal Service for 99% of my eBay shipping ever since I joined back in 1999. Despite all of the bad things you may hear, problems are rare, though still inevitable due to the sheer volume of parcels they process. I’ve never hesitated to defend the USPS whenever I hear a snide comment about government incompetence. However, incompetence most certainly exists at USPS, and it’s not the government’s fault.

Whether it’s USPS, UPS, Fedex, DHL, or any other shipper, sooner or later a problem’s going to arise. I’ve had my share of problems with UPS leaving their sticky notes without actually making a delivery attempt. For the amount of packages I ship with USPS, they do a surprisingly good job. However, two weeks ago I probably had the worst customer service experience I’ve ever encountered with USPS. I’ll be taking my overnight shipping needs to UPS or Fedex, and once you’re done reading this story, you might want to, also.

It all started on Wednesday, August 12 when I sold a laptop and the buyer purchased the Express Mail shipping upgrade (something I am no longer offering.) The buyer conveyed to me the importance of receiving this laptop by Saturday. Within an hour of receiving payment for the laptop, I dropped it off at a post office that was open late that evening. I assumed bringing it to the post office Wednesday night would mean that it made Thursday’s pickup, and then be delivered Saturday within the 2-day guarantee, but that’s where I assumed wrong.

Saturday came around, and as you can probably figure out by now, the laptop did not arrive. My customer was upset, as he rightfully should have been, and I refunded him the Express shipping. Monday the laptop was finally delivered. USPS Express Mail comes with a money back guarantee. Parcels are guaranteed to arrive in either 1 or 2 business days depending on the zone. As this parcel took 3 business days, I figured this would be a slam dunk. Of course, I was dead wrong again.

B.S. Round 1

USPS.com clearly states that all Express Mail refunds must be requested at a post office branch. I drove to the closest post office, went to the counter and presented all of the information to the clerk. Immediately the clerk told me that since I purchased the postage online, I have to request the refund online. Having researched this ahead of time I informed him of what I read on USPS.com, and he went to the back to call a supervisor.

Ten to fifteen minutes later the clerk came back and insisted that I did not ship this package until Friday, August 14. I explain that I printed the label on the 12th and that the tracking info (which I printed out) clearly shows it was accepted on Thursday, August 13. The clerk looked at the piece of paper and told me he had no idea what he was looking at. He insisted that my printout from their own website was complete bunk!

B.S. Round 2

After being given the run-around at the first post office, I headed to the slightly-farther-away post office where I dropped the laptop off to begin with. The clerk was much friendlier, though still not very helpful. The only information I took away from this visit was that 2-day Express isn’t guaranteed to all locations, which I know can’t be true because USPS is pretty clear about this on their website.

B.S. Round 3

Having received a couple of different answers, neither of which I believed to be accurate, I filled out a contact form on the USPS website. I received a reply from a “no-reply” e-mail address (which is a travesty in and of itself – if you don’t want your customers to reply, why are you always asking for feedback?) The message said that my parcel was delivered on Monday, August 17, which was the guaranteed delivery date, and therefore I was ineligible for a refund. I filled out a second form, since replying via e-mail only resulted in a bounced message. I explained that the guaranteed delivery date was Saturday but was delayed to Monday, and that a Wednesday drop-off should have made the Thursday pickup.

B.S. Round 4

The next day I received another reply. The postal rep insisted that the reason my package was not delivered within 2 business days was because there is no mail on Sunday, and that if I want Sunday delivery I can pay extra for it. I remind the rep once again that the package should have gone out Thursday and been there Saturday. Again my reply bounces so I copy and paste it into their website, filling out the contact form again in its entirety.

B.S. Round 5 (The Big One)

A couple of days later my local post office sends me a letter in the mail explaining that the reason my package was delayed was because I used the recipient’s zip code as my origin zip code, which resulted in a lack of sufficient postage. The letter explained that I paid $40 for shipping, but it should have been $42, and had I used the right origin zip code, there would not have been a hold up.

This hurts my brain in so many ways. Why, you ask?

  • My “origin zip code” is my home zip code. Always has been, always will be. I printed this shipping label the same way I print all my shipping labels. If this really was the problem, why have all my other parcels been fine?
  • The postage was correct. I went to USPS.com and double checked just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. Shipping is $42 for the online rate, but the eBay Top Rated Seller rate is $40 after the discount. If I actually used the recipient’s zip code instead of my own, the cost would have been $20 with the USPS online rate, and even less with the eBay discount.
  • If postage was missing, the parcel would have been returned. During the previous week, I had two parcels returned to me for lacking sufficient postage. One of them was my fault as it was an oversize package. However, the postage was perfectly fine on the other one, and when I brought it back to the post office even the clerk was puzzled why it was returned to me. This begs the question: If the post office returns packages to me for insufficient postage when I have enough, why wouldn’t they do the same when I’m actually short postage?

The silver lining is that my local post office did agree to give me the refund. But if you’re going to offer a money back guarantee, should the customer really have to endure this many rounds of B.S.? How about a B.S.-Free Guarantee? That’s a guarantee I can get behind. Until USPS institutes such a guarantee, I’ll be using UPS or FedEx for my overnight shipping needs.

Update 8/31: I received my refund, though I was still told that my postage was incorrect, despite my printouts from USPS.com showing otherwise.