The Useless Parcel Service

Updated August 11, 2016: See new comments at the end.


One thing that being an Amazon Prime member teaches you is how good the various shipping companies are at getting packages delivered to the right place, at the right time. Amazon uses pretty much all the options, including, recently, their own Amazon Logistics delivery vans. From all those deliveries, the ones that regularly arrive late, or not at all, are the ones carried by UPS. Amazon Logistics and OnTrac are always on time or even early (often next day instead of two days).

In the last month, we’ve placed 8 Amazon orders. Two shipped by USPS (arrived one day early), two UPS (both late), and the other four came with Amazon Logistics (two early, two on time).

Second Day Air

The first late delivery was ordered using the Prime 2 day delivery. On a Wednesday morning. Normally, that would mean delivery by Friday. But in the world of UPS second day air, it meant Monday. And late Monday too (almost up to the 8pm deadline). That, but my calculation, is 5 days after the order. They dispute this by claiming they don’t count weekend days. Well I do, and so do their competitors who happily deliver Saturday & Sunday. 

Here’s the rub though, early on Sunday morning I ordered another item from Amazon, using prime 2 day shipping. It was delivered early on Monday morning. One day early and several hours before the order from the previous Wednesday. But it was delivered by Amazon Logistics, who apparently can not only move packages over the weekend, but deliver early when they can. Even the regular postal service delivers over the weekend, Sunday included. In fact, many of my Amazon two day orders arrive on Sunday via USPS. But not UPS. 

Next Day Guaranteed

Last night I needed a micro USB to USB C adapter quickly. I ordered them & paid extra for the next day delivery upgrade (still cheaper than buying one from a Target or Best Buy, but the shipping was almost as much as the adapters). Today at lunch time I received an alert from Amazon that my delivery had been delayed: 

So, somehow UPS managed to send the package to the wrong place, but South San Francisco isn’t far away. And that notice still suggests it might arrive today. Their own website seems less confident, but still not definitive that the package won’t make it on time:


At least I ordered mid-week too. Otherwise that one day delay might be a three day delay. 

Given that I’d not received any updates by 5pm, I sent an email asking whether there was any chance of it being delivered today (the website was still vague at best). Here’s the reply I received:


Not only is the package going to miss the guaranteed delivery time, they don’t even seem to know when it will be delivered. How can that be? Surely, the correct answer should be first thing the next morning? Even without the special Express handling option, UPS has an option for guaranteed before 9:30am delivery (Next Day Early). And that works from a lot further away than South SF. It should have been simple to guarantee delivery by 9:30am if they cared. 

A smart organization, when they make a mistake like this, would upgrade the package to the fastest possible option. But not UPS. I called the number Amazon support sent me to get better tracking information & the only thing the person who answered could say was it would arrive by 8pm tomorrow. A whole 24 hours late. She showed absolutely no concern for the fact that I had paid extra for next day shipping for a reason. Like I needed it today; not tomorrow. 

Mistakes Happen

I understand mistakes happen (although I kind of assumed the package sorting would be an automated process, at least near an Amazon distribution facility). What really counts is how the organization handles it. UPS had two options:

  1. Promise delivery before 9:30am the next day (and keep that promise);
  2. Show zero concern for missing the delivery deadline, and not even provide an updated delivery guarantee. 

The first is good customer care, and should be the standard policy in cases where the mistake is clearly internal as it was in this case. The second treats customers as if they don’t matter. UPS went with option 2. 

Update 1 (August 11, 2016)

I had the chance to talk to a very nice lady from UPS’ Customer Relations department at HQ this morning, and go over some of the concerns I raised here. As I noted above, UPS feels the earlier 2-day package was delivered on time (and it did arrive on the day they said it would). My main concern there is that if Amazon continues to ship packages using UPS at the end of the week, the 2 day prime shipping becomes 4-5 day shipping. Even more so, since not only do they not deliver on the weekend (unless the special Saturday option was selected when the shipment was sent), they also don’t even move the package towards its destination. Essentially, it freezes on Friday night and doesn’t move again until Monday morning.

The second issue, with the next day package turns out to be partly Amazon’s fault. It seems they decided that the ground transit time from their Las Vegas distribution center to here was short enough that they could ship it using UPS ground rather than a guaranteed next day service. When I suggested that having made an error like this, it would be a smart move for UPS to expedite the package and minimize the delay; the response to that was that it wouldn’t make business sense (and that it would also be potentially complex to determine which packages needed to be expedited, though I don’t buy that at all since it was possible to send me the alert when the mistake was detected). Given that Amazon chose ground shipping for a premium rate next day delivery though, at least part of the blame lies with them. (They did refund the shipping costs, but I would have preferred the items on time so I wasn’t rushing to complete things before traveling). I suspect there is an API somewhere which the Amazon brain connects into and queries the expected delivery time using all options and then picks the cheapest.

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