A Frustrating Exercise in Package Reception

UPS can do better.

I recently bought a flat screen TV on Amazon – they still have pretty good pricing on all electronics, and Amazon Prime makes even big ticket purchases way more impulsive than they really ought to be.

I remember when I last got a TV from Amazon – back in 2008 or so – they offered free “white glove” delivery service: the deliverymen carried the package inside the house, unwrapped the box, plugged in the TV1 and ensured it was not damaged during shipping, and took away the leftover packaging. There was no way that kind of hands-on service would scale with the large amount of televisions bought hence.

This one started out via the usual tracking codes and shipping notifications; Amazon decided to send it via UPS Ground, surprising seeing that it was supposed to arrive in two business days. Immediately, there was a discrepancy in the estimates and data available between Amazon’s and UPS’s tracking systems, which wouldn’t be resolved until after the first attempted delivery date. I was reminded of the adage on how no information is better than misleading information.

Regardless, I saw where the item was going, and eventually it landed at the local sorting facility and onto a delivery truck at 7am. I resigned to a day working from home to wait for the dropoff, as there is amazingly no estimated time for a UPS Ground delivery, only the approximate date of arrival. In fact, for residential deliveries UPS suggests a ridiculous 9 am – 7 pm window, but does not guarantee even that timeframe. In my case I waited well past 7 pm, and they came at 8 pm.

Missed connections happen; in this case, the lack of downstream information made it much more likely to happen, so I was determined to get a handle on the next attempted delivery date. That’s when I ran into UPS My Choice: an account and service that UPS makes its users sign up for to accomplish this basic feature of specifying a delivery time. In fact, every UPS customer service rep pushed me to this service (3-4x total), and I see that there is an egregious paywall for any useful functionality, simple things like scheduling deliveries or changing the address.

In my case, I’d be happy with just getting delivery time information, and the system could not even do that correctly; it refused to link the package with my newly-created account, and customer service was eventually reduced to the advice of “just wait at about the same time as your missed delivery tomorrow and hope the driver follows the same route.”

Thinking back, I don’t think there has ever been a time in the e-commerce era of shipping where deliveries to residences has ever been pleasant. I’ve made the drive to the nearest FedEx/UPS/DHL sorting centers so many times that I’ve memorized the addresses and the routes; sadly, getting an item held at the shipping center has been the most reliable way to control when I receive it, and I suspect these shipping companies know this as well2.

For now, the shipping incumbents are safe from social economy/courier upstarts: shipping across any non-trivial distance requires a massive investment in infrastructure, and local deliveries (Postmates, Caspar et al) only make business sense in dense urban areas. Imagine, though, if a tech giant like Amazon wants to fully control the logistics of shipping, with a heavy emphasis on customer service and ease-of-use.

  1. And helped me put in on the stand, though I doubt they’d go as far as mounting one.

  2. I remember with the launch of the iPhone 5, they set up lines around the shipping center pickup areas precisely because so many people had to manually pick up their shipments.

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