Not that you needed more bad news to round out the myriad chaos surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, but it could throw a curve into your business. And in a very, very bad way.
For a multitude of possible reasons, mail delivery through the United States Post Office has hit a major snag. Formerly a reliable service with on-time deliveries, the mother of all shipping magnates is bogged down with complications from various factors including sheer volume, employee shortages, and political wrangling.
An internal memo leaked to the press reveals that carriers are instructed to avoid overtime and unnecessary delays by leaving some mail at distribution centers if it may cause them to spend more time on their shift. A baffling development for the hundreds-year-old icon of delivery, this new policy follows a series of high-profile changes and concerns.
We’ll leave the messy controversy over this administration’s newly appointed Postmaster General alone for now, saying only that allegations of attempted election suppression are not helping. But the upshot is that mail delivery is increasingly faulty and late, with packages delivered to wrong addresses, delivered late, or not delivered at all. Bad for ecommerce.
The US Post Office experienced a massive $4.5 billion loss in revenues after its second quarter of this year. The reasons for that are complex and varied. The government-contracted agency is forced to find cost-cutting measures. For obvious reasons, this is an unimaginable ecommerce nightmare. Doing your part as a vendor to market, lure, sell, and package merchandise is hard enough. Now knowing that your good faith attempts to get it sent to buyers may be in vain is more than you should have to accept.
Pres. Trump has suggested the USPS triple or quadruple shipping prices. While some don’t take that seriously, it implies an intent to adjust pricing, at very least. That will impact your bottom line.
Weathering the storm
Multiple stories of boxes being stuck in an infinite cycle of nowhere are piling up. Even the official USPS website specifies that Priority Mail shipping—once the marquee feature of the postal service—is no longer guaranteed to meet its two- to three-day delivery deadline.
This is unprecedented and frightening to those who rely on the post office for delivery.
What can the average ecommerce vendor do to alleviate inconveniences, or worse, harsh rebuke from customers? First, closely monitor your delivery experiences to current customers. Track the shipping and received-by dates in a spreadsheet or other platform that will allow you to assess patterns. If it’s getting worse, find out where those deliveries are bound.
Second, look into alternatives. UPS and FedEx are keenly aware of this USPS dustup and, as expected, are considering ways to pick up the slack. Noting that they typically avoid delivery to rural areas, they might find a way to subcontract and make that possible.
The other past impediment to post office alternatives? Cost. It’s extraordinarily expensive, in most cases, to ship Fed Ex or UPS air. You can bet they will explore opportunities to come down a bit, perhaps enough to convince vendors to switch.
The most unthinkable development in this ugly saga would be a complete fold by USPS. Previously thought impossible, it’s an idea that at least is batted around as Congress attempts to straighten out the agency’s financial burdens. Advocates like to remind the public that the post office is the only major organization required by law to pre-fund employee health insurance obligations. That alone is enough to cripple most businesses. If political winds change, and the picture eases for USPS, we may once again experience a reliable, relatively low-cost shipping method. If not, the game will change significantly.