Postal Dis-Service?

By Fred Lee on 6 May 2009 16 comments

A recent article in the NY Daily News confirmed something I’ve experienced firsthand - some of the Postal Service claims regarding Priority Mail (2 to 3 day delivery) are not always accurate. In fact, based on what was in the article as well as my own personal experience, the delivery time of Priority Mail was at times no different than first class mail, their cheapest service, which in the case of a letter is forty two cents. The cost of a Priority Mail envelope is $4.95.

The postal service willingly acknowledges that the speed of Priority Mail may not be any quicker than regular postage, and will cover themselves by refusing to guarantee that the letter or parcel will in fact get there in two days, thus leaving it to us, the customer, to make the appropriate choice.

In the article, the Daily News found that 8 of the 10 items arrived at their location on the same day. Now granted, it was not a very scientific experiment, and some of the deliveries were between boroughs, so it was going to take a day, at most. Even still, it makes you wonder, what exactly are they trying to sell us?

Now I’m not here to knock the Postal Service. For the most part, I’m more than satisfied with the job they do, especially in lieu of the horrendous amounts of mail the have to handle. But I have had issues in the past with Priority Mail, even though every time I’ve used it, they always hedge their claims by saying, “Give or take a day or two.” Even then, I’m still willing to pay for it. Sometimes it’s come through for me, and sometimes it’s let me down.

After giving it a bit of thought, I’ve concluded that there are five categories that I might fall into:

1. The sender who chooses Priority Mail and could have used regular mail. This usually happens with in-state or cross-town mailings. It’s very frustrating because I spend more than I had to. Besides the monetary inefficiency, there is the loss of face in feeling duped and suckered.

2. The sender who chooses Priority Mail and it didn’t get there in 2 to 3 days. Even more aggravating because I didn’t get what I paid for, but even worse, there is nobody to whine to. In fact, all the complaining in the world will more than likely have little effect on changing the status quo, making me feel powerless and impotent.

3. The sender who does not choose Priority Mail and wished they had. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen into this category because even if there’s a chance that it might get there late (with dire consequences), I'm going to choose Priority Mail.

4. The receiver who was waiting for something sent by Priority Mail and did not receive it in 2 to 3 days. More disappointing than frustrating, though we’ve experienced it with our children’s holiday presents and consequently really felt cheated. Again, there is nobody to voice your feelings to.

5. The receiver who was waiting for something sent by Priority Mail, received it on time, but wished the sender had saved their money and sent it instead by First Class. Again, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this one, either, mainly because we’re usually so excited about receiving the package that we’re more than willing to forgive the extravagance of the sender.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in one of these situations. If so, please share it with us.

Perhaps the biggest frustration that arises is when the package doesn’t arrive on time is lack of accountability. Sure, we can air out our grievances to the person behind the counter, but there is a good chance that they are not hearing a word we’re saying and even if they did, would be powerless to do anything about it.

Now I’ve never attempted this, but I’m guessing the post office isn’t going to give you your money back, but I could be wrong. Besides, what’s done is done, and all your moaning and groaning is not going to change that.

Furthermore, the Post Office is not technically hiding anything. In the absence of any concrete guarantees, the impetus lies with us to be informed and make the proper choice, and when you really get down to it, the choice of Priority Mail is not without a few perks. The spiffy cardboard envelope and delivery confirmation (which for entertainment value alone is worth something) come to mind.

Best of all, I get the peace of mind of knowing that I did my part and tried my best. If anyone questions my claim of diligence, I fear not.

After all, the Post Office will give me a receipt.

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Guest's picture

Whenever I send something that has to get there on a given day, I send it UPS no question. The Post Office just doesn't have it together when it comes to on-time delivery and package tracking like UPS & Fed-Ex do.

Guest's picture

Used to pay extra for certified mail to mail rent checks. One time it was lost and arrived a month late with a shoeprint on it. Another time it was returned to sender as having the wrong address, even though it had the right address on it.

This has never happened with regular first class mail, which gets there faster and right on time.

However, I did receive a Christmas card sent first class from grandma with an envelope that was literally shredded with only the remains of my address on it. The card and what I hope is the whole contents seemed to be intact and it was all held together with a couple of rubber bands, and marked "damaged". I have no idea how that happened. (caught in a machine?)

Guest's picture

Nobody ever said Priority is guaranteed. Its not even called "2 day" or "3 day" delivery". Their website says: "Delivers within 2 days in most cases." Who is going to read that and then assume theres a guarantee or get all upset that it didn't get their in 2 days?

If you want guaranteed delivery time then pay for Express mail or use UPS or Fedex. Sure it will cost you 3-5 times as much. But even then that 'guarantee' only goes so far. UPS will delay delivery due to weather or other events out of their control and that is an exception to their guarantee. UPS and Fedex are not above occasionally damaging or misplacing packages. Trust me I worked in a UPS hub for a while. I saw more than one package with a footprint on it and 'fragile' means *nothing*.

Guest's picture

"For the most part, I’m more than satisfied with the job they do, especially in lieu of the horrendous amounts of mail the have to handle."

In lieu means "instead" like "donate to charity in lieu of sending gifts". I think you meant "in light of"

Guest's picture

I am one of those rare people who has actually gotten money BACK from the post office. Basically, we live out of state of the rest of our family, and sending Christmas boxes is about the only time we send ANYTHING ourselves. So we pay extra to insure that it gets there and at the time we asked for. We even track it online and call family, and the MOMENT that it's NOT there on to the post office with receipt and printout of the tracker stating that it's NOT delivered yet. Go up and tell them that per their rules, you get your money back. If they say no (which they've tried only once!), ask to speak with the postmaster. That did the trick for us, as the postmaster was taking no nonsense.

Unfortunately for OUR post office, the ones in Missouri (where our family lives) always seem to get the packages stuck in Kansas City around Christmas, so they USUALLY have to give our money back. Can't beat free box mailing, right? *grin* Now if I have to send letters or something that is REALLY important...UPS or FedEx is the way to go...but I've only done that once...

Guest's picture

P.S. We also always send said boxes Priority with lowest level insurance.

Guest's picture

The NY Daily News story is, indeed, extremely unscientific. If you're looking mostly at shipments within a certain radius, then regular letter post can be pretty darn fast and priority is no advantage, unless you need proof of shipment. But if you're sending something several thousand miles, priority will usually be faster.

Guest's picture

I also meant to add that priority flat rate prices are often not that much more than parcel post rates.

Guest's picture

I send packages FedEx Ground. Delivery in 3-7 days and trackable. Nearly always cheaper than parcel post via USPS.

I even shipped a large heavy painting to Vancouver Island BC via FedEx Ground for less than taking it as excess baggage on the plane with me.

Guest's picture

I once had a problem with a Priority Mail package. It wasn't needed by a certain day, but it was needed soon (an out of town friend had left her cell phone behind.) When it didn't arrive within a week, I contacted the Post Office, who refused to do anything - not even investigate until a month or two had passed. The package was delivered about a month later.

However, last Christmas, I was sending packages from California - one to Maryland with USPS Priority, and one to Texas with FedEx 2nd Day. The Priority Mail to Maryland was delivered first. So sometimes the post office beats FedEx for price AND speed.

Guest's picture

If you think about it logically, of course packages get their in the same amount of time in a lot of instances!

I worked at FedEx Ground and UPS in college as a loader/sorter. It's not like they purposefully slow down non-priority packages.

The only time you really experience a difference is if it is far enough away that a plane needs to be used. In those cases parcel will go via truck and priority will go on the plane.

Usually. (That's the way it seems to work in the package business ;) heh)

Guest's picture

What the heck do you expect from a quasi-governmental business?

The good ol' USPO -- their business has dropped precipitously because businesses and individuals just don't send the mail they used to. That and more efficient private businesses are kicking their butt.

Naturally, they want to cut service - cut out Saturday service. But woe to those who suggest cutting bene's or pensions. The Post Office CEO, during these most recent trying times, pulled down $850,000 last year. How's that for rewarding the incapable?

Obama says that's just fine. No problem.

Fred Lee's picture
Fred Lee

Thanks for chiming in and sharing your thoughts. I agree that no system is perfect, and if you really want guaranteed delivery, you have to pay for it. In the end, I'm not out to villify the USPO, and want to reiterate that for the most part, I've had nothing but good experiences with them.

Jim, I agree that there are no guarantees with Priority.

Daniel, thanks for setting me straight. I love that expression, even in lieu of the fact that I've been using it incorrectly.

Jesse, kudos to you for getting your money back. Just goes to show you that you've got to try.

Kathryn, I agree, the difference in sending parcels Priority or Parcel Post is often negligible, which always made me scratch my head.

Nancy, I've actually found that Fedex can be surprisingly cheaper at times.

Lacey, you just never know. I've had for the most part excellent service from the USPS, and very few reasons to complain.

MLR, thanks for the insight.

And Kelja, what I expect from a quasi-governmental organization is quasi-governmental service.

Thanks again for sharing all your thoughts. We've all had our share of good and bad experiences, but when you really get down to it, most of the USPS service is just fine. We get our mail every day of the week without having to even think about it. When something goes wrong, it's easy to condemn the entire system, when in fact the system is doing it's job.

Guest's picture

As I understand it, the real value play with USPS is the Priority Mail flat rate box ... you can put in whatever fits and the weight does not affect the price ...

Guest's picture

As a former, serious eBay seller I used Endicia to print and manage my USPS shipping.

Over a period of 3 years and approximately 3,000 packages sent via USPS I observed the rolling 30 day average for Priority Mail package deliveries stayed under 2 days. The overall average was 1.8 days.

Here's a major tip. Don't ever ship PM unless you print off your own label from the USPS website. The uniformity of the label lends itself to less hand sorting needed, thereby ensuring faster processing. (This is on an average, not necessarily on a single package.)

That does require a scale though.

As an added bonus you get delivery confirmation for free.

PS. My personal record? Next day from NC to NM for a PM package. That package was smoking.

PPS. My personal record for the Flat Rate Box? 65 pounds! Yeah baby! I got my money's worth that time. (70 pounds is the limit.)

Guest's picture

I did not ship that many parcel Post packages but they averaged 4.3 days. First Class (which I did ship a lot of) averaged 3.2 days.