The 2020 holiday shopping season was like no other for online commerce with record sales and shipping delays. Especially, the US Postal Service struggled to deliver packages on time, and as UPS and FedEx throttled pickups, it made the situation worse.
Unlike private couriers, the postal service cannot refuse to accept shipments, adding more parcels to a system that was stretched beyond its limits due to higher than normal volume, significant staffing shortages as workers were forced into COVID quarantines, and one major winter storm that hit the densely populated northeastern US.
Now, well over three weeks since Christmas, one would think this problem is over, but it’s not yet.
On social media, there are still sellers complaining about shipments that are delayed going back to early December. And a new story in The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests it still may be a while.
“All we can ask of people is to be patient and understand that the people that are working inside the facilities, inside the post offices are doing everything they can.”Andy Kubat, president of the Lehigh Valley Area Local American Postal Workers Union
Satish Jindel, president of ShipMatrix explained to the Enquirer that their data showed on-time delivery dropped below 50 percent in the Philadelphia region. “There were some days when the Post Office got 40 million packages [nationwide], unlike any other business,” Jindel added.
To make matters worse, Jindel suggests that shipments being sent today are being delivered faster, effectively the system has turned upside down, “it’s last in, first out.”
USPS Delays – Not Just Philadelphia
While Philadelphia may have it worse than some other parts of the US because of a perfect storm of circumstances, the Philadelphia facilities are still receiving old packages from around the country. That suggests there are still thousands of packages in USPS facilities spread across the nation with no updated tracking scans, many presumed lost.
The latter is a key issue for sellers on marketplace platforms such as eBay and Etsy that may have been given a few additional days to resolve “Item Not Received” (INR) claims, but the marketplaces use tracking updates (or the lack of) to make final decisions if buyers can get a refund. Also, it affects other sellers, even if they run online stores as customers keep asking for updates, and if they don’t get a positive response may call their credit card company to request a chargeback.
Additionally, January is “Returns Month” and with record sales, there are record returns. Many buyers use the US Postal Service for returns, and sellers or merchants that offer return labels also typically stick with USPS, as that is usually the most convenient for customers.
While the volume of returns is less now than in December, it just adds to a system still trying to dig itself out of a mess. “Honestly, it’s going to be at least six to eight weeks,” said Laurence Love, a clerk craft director at a Philadelphia facility to the Enquirer.
The worst of “Shippageddon” may be over, but there are enough packages left in the system to continue to frustrate buyers and sellers.
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