Your Daily Mindjob
This is my personal blog where I'll offer up some political straight talk as well as thoughts on technology and pop culture. That should give me plenty to talk about. The world can give you one heck of a mindjob. Think like me and get your daily dose.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Shipping Business Sucks From Start To Finish

If you are a consumer like me, you buy lots of things online, especially if you live in a rural area or a small city. Local businesses just don't have the selection I want most of the time. It forces people like me to hop online and make purchases.

But that's where the real fun begins. Shipping. It's a bitch these days.

The shipping process has many levels starting with the order and ending with delivery. Everything in between is a painful experience no matter where you shop, it seems. It starts with the order, moves on to order processing, the item ships out the door, then travels via the shipping service, and finally ends with the delivery.

Let's start at the top. Once you place your order, you are given shipping options ranging from ground service to expedited air. The cost alone has gone up from around $5 to $6 to closer to $10. Fuel costs have probably affected these prices, so I can't complain about that too much. The thing is, I never get my money's worth. A 3-day is not really a 3-day. Overnight shipping is more like 3-day delivery. I'm glad some places still offer free shipping, but at a lot of sites, you still have to pay an arm and a leg to qualify for that free shipping. If you want overnight shipping, expect to pay $40 or more. The catch with overnight and 3-day shipping is a sly one on the part of retailers. The clock doesn't start until the package is out the door. They can take their sweet time "processing" an item.

So once you've made your selection, your order has been placed and you get the receipt in your inbox. A blurb in that message might suggest shipping info will arrive in your inbox shortly, including a tracking number. At this point, you're already screwed. At least I usually am. First, the item takes forever to ship, even if you place your order before 3pm, noon, or whatever time the site says for same-day processing. You won't get same day. Your item will probably take 2 days to process before it actually ships. Like I said, the clock does not start until the package hits the pavement. Countless major retailers sit on their hands while I wait for shipping info in my inbox.

To give you an example, I placed two orders on Sunday afternoon. It's now Tuesday and neither company has shipped either package. That stinks. My $10 worth of shipping costs (each order) were just wasted by both companies. That's $20 vanishing into thin air. I received an email yesterday from one stating shipping info was on the way. I have yet to receive that information.

In the past, I was frequently faced with options with regard to the company shipping my precious cargo. Now, I'd be lucky if FedEx or DHL were listed. UPS has a stranglehold on the shipping business. I can't remember the last time I received anything via DHL or FedEx. The USPS even has a leg up on FedEx and DHL.

Sometimes I never receive any shipping info, especially if the item I ordered is coming via USPS. Some sites will give you the USPS or UPS tracking number. That number may or may not work. You see, in order for you to track a package, the middle-men need to scan it. In addition to knowing when your packaged was shipped and where it is located at any particular point in time, you also get a delivery date. That's assuming the package can be tracked. Let's just say that if you have a tracking number, all it tells you is how painfully slow it is moving across the country. UPS is better at tracking that the USPS, which rarely has the information readily available. UPS tracking information online lags behind the scanning process. There's nothing you can do about it either.

While your item is moving its way across the country, it gets handled by a number of individuals. These employees don't seem to care about how fragile a package might be. They might as well be working for the airport tossing luggage as far as I'm concerned, especially if they work for UPS. FedEx is certainly no angel with regard to package handling, but compared to UPS which is a nightmare, other options are far better. But remember, you frequently are not given those options. The USPS carriers are somewhat better with regard to package handling too, but there are other issues with the USPS I'll get to in a moment.

Assuming your package survives the trip, two or three days after you expected the package, it gets delivered. Oh, the delivery. Here's another mess I have to discuss. Let me share my experiences. The time of delivery varies from company to company. Regardless of whether or not your package requires a signature, you'll likely spend the entire day being held hostage by the delivery guy or gal. UPS tends to make an evening run where I live. If I know the delivery date and UPS is the carrier, I can expect the package to arrive between 4pm and 6:30pm, but that's still no guarantee. Some carriers have left packages at the wrong house. Others have been known to drop it at the end of the driveway, not at my doorstep. The USPS carriers can be moody and may be on a power trip. USPS packages typically require a signature, so if you're not home, you get a nice slip of paper in your mailbox telling you to pick it up at your post office the next day. Here's the kicker. My carrier has been known to leave the box at the post office and toss the slip in the mailbox anyway. Yes, even if I'm home, if a box is coming via USPS and it requires a signature, there is a good chance I'll have to drive to pick it up. Again, the shipping fee I paid is meaningless if I have to be the one driving to pick it up. FedEx has what I like to call morning people. They're awesome. Between 8am and 11am, the FedEx truck or van will pull up and drop off the package. It's guaranteed. Never had any problems with FedEx or DHL in this department.

I wish I could give you all a few tips, but we are at the mercy of the delivery trucks and the packaging folks. I try to place orders on a Friday or on week ends so that the clock starts ticking on Monday, not Tuesday, but as you can see from my most recent expenditures, that did not help a single bit.

If you are a retailer, here's some advice. Ship no later than 24 hours after the order was placed. If there are multiple items to assemble in a package, it's understood that processing will take longer. No big deal. One item should not take more than 24 hours to go from point A to B. Give your customers more options too. I know UPS probably cuts you a deal. Pickup services probably suck on your end no matter what, but trust me, your customers will love you for giving them options. I love using FedEx if at all possible. Add them to your list please. Get tracking numbers for your customers, even if it's through the USPS. You might want to institute a survey of sorts evaluating the shipping experience so your customers can identify weak spots for you.

I'm seconds away from mentioning companies by name. You don't want to be on that list. Service is at an all time low people. I don't know what's wrong with workers these days. I can't get anything done. In my line of work, it's my ass if I'm not punctual and on top of my game. Lives are on the line in my line of work.

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