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Did you know... that the U.S. Post Office has made a really stupid change regarding delivery times, in a misguided effort to "improve"?

Return to Did You Know Archive
Added: 11/18/2013
It is common knowledge that the U.S. Post Office has fallen on hard times, and it is commonly reported that what is to blame is their need to set aside pension funds, that places them deep in debt. This "pension problem" IS a real problem (for many years, people would work at the Post Office for 25 years and the be awarded a generous pension for life, which nowadays could need to be paid for 30 or 40 years after retiring, and they never set the necessary funds aside).
 
 But a much bigger problem the Post Office faces is that it is like a manufacturer of buggy whips was at the start of the 20th Century, in that it sells a product that is less and less used! I have switched to paying almost all my bills electronically, and I send almost all communication via e-mail or texting. I used to print catalogs and mail them to my customers, and now I post my items online, and never use a commercial printer. We used to mail printed invoices to all our customers, and now we send those via email. We used to mail all our consignors payments via check, but now more and more of them are opting to be paid via PayPal.
 
 I don't think this is in any way limited to myself. I have five children ranging in age from 20 to 9, and I don't know that any of them have ever sent a letter, or have needed to! I would be that most of you have also found that you are sending less and less mail, and the result is that the Post Office has had a drastic drop in the number of letters it handles. I know that a huge percentage of our customers used to pay by sending us a check, but now the vast majority of them either pay by credit card or PayPal, and no mail is required to do either!
 
 The Post Office has responded to this greatly reduced amount of letter mail by raising rates over and over and over, and it is not just on letters, but also on packages. We are a company that charges the actual shipping cost plus $3 for packaging material and handling, and we offer a flat rate on many of our auctions to encourage multiple buying (which causes us to lose money on a lot of the packages we send). But the Post Office's endless raising of rates has made shipping costs soar out of control in recent years.
 
 In 2000 we charged $4 for any U.S. order that fit in a standard flat package, because the Post Office had free Priority Mail boxes, and it was a flat $3.95. We charged $11 for any any non-U.S. order that fit in a standard flat package. Now, just 13 years later, we need to charge $11 for any U.S. order that fit in a standard flat package, and non-U.S. orders that don't fit in a First Class International tube or flat package (which is most orders of any quantity of posters over a handful) is usually around $40 to $45!
 
 The way we have coped with this is to let all our U.S. customers "Pay and Hold" all their purchases for a three week period (during which time we will have auctioned around 7,500 items) and all our non-U.S. customers "Pay and Hold" all their purchases for a six week period (during which time we will have auctioned around 15,000 items), and then we combine all those purchases into as few packages or tubes as possible, and send them off, saving our customers a HUGE amount of shipping cost.
 
 NOW THE U.S. POST OFFICE HAS MADE A REALLY, REALLY STUPID NEW CHANGE! What is it? They face greater and greater competition from UPS and FedEx, both of which do a better job than the Post Office. UPS has always offered the first $100 of insurance free, and now the Post Office is matching that, which is a good change. But both UPS and FedEx have always offered a guaranteed two-day service, and the Post Office's Priority Mail (which often costs around the same) has always been advertised as "two to three day service" with NO guarantee.
 
 Well now they have seen that the Post Office loses much of this business to UPS and FedEx (because customers want that two day guarantee), but INSTEAD OF OFFERING THEIR OWN TWO DAY GUARANTEE, THE POST OFFICE HAS NOW ADDED FALSE "ESTIMATED DELIVERY TIMES" TO THEIR PRIORITY MAIL PACKAGES!
 
 What do I mean? When we send a package by Priority Mail, the Post Office (in its wisdom) decides whether they think it SHOULD take one, two, or three days to get there, and then it automatically adds that to the shipping label (and email confirmation) so that the package now says "Priority One Day Delivery" or "Priority Two Day Delivery" or "Priority Three Day Delivery", and because they are hopelessly over-optimistic, they tend to put one or two day on almost everything!
 
 So now, we send an order on Monday, and the customers sees "Priority Two Day Delivery" on the confirmation e-mail, and when it is not there by Wednesday, they start to get mad, and they often blame us, and then we have to explain all of the above to them. Of course, the Post Office should junk this change (or start living up to their promised delivery times) but I don't see either happening very soon!
 
 Here is what is so sad. The Post Office loses a fortune on letters (because so few are being sent) and on mail-order catalogs (because they send them for under cost). The one thing they make money on is packages, and they keep raising the rates on those, to try to subsidize the letters and catalogs. But in doing so they keep losing more and more package business to UPS and FedEx, and that makes no sense.
 
 They also have cut back on the quality of their service. Recently they called us and told us they could no longer afford to pick up our packages, and that we would have to deliver them to the Post Office (we send 50 to 100 a day). By coincidence, a high ranking Post Office employee called me a few days later and asked me how we were doing, "because we are a major valued client of theirs". I told him about the coming stoppage of package pickups, and told him that we would surely be transferring a lot of our business to UPS, because UPS does pick up. He told me he would get it "fixed" and the next day the Post Office called to say that they would continue picking up our packages!
 
 Here's how I suggest "fixing" the Post Office:
 1) Reduce letter delivery to 3 days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Yes, it would be a shock to a few remaining people who still send or receive a lot of mail, but they will get over it, just as so many millions of people have switched from reading a daily newspaper to getting their news over the Internet.
 2) Charge those who make mail order catalogs the actual cost of sending them plus a small extra amount. I ordered ONCE from Pottery Barn ten years ago, and I receive a catalog ever week or two ever since! How does that make sense? If they were charged a fair rate, then those companies would only send them to active customers, which would be better for everyone concerned.
 3) Improve their package service so that they really can compete with UPS and FedEx. Offer GUARANTEED Next Day, Two Day and Three Day Service, and get a tracking system in place that really tracks packages, and then they will get a larger percentage of the package business.
 
 Will they do any of this? Probably not, because they make their decisions based on political motivations (what will be popular and gain votes) rather than on sound business principles. But hopefully they will soon junk the truly dreadful "Priority One Day Delivery" or "Priority Two Day Delivery" feel-good designations (with ZERO guarantee) they have recently added to their packages!

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