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United Parcel Service UPS Packages Spend Christmas in the Twilight Zone

roadskater's picture

The saga began early in the week before Christmas. I had decided to avoid the stores mostly and do most of my shopping online. That was mostly a great decision I decided after going out to the stores later in the week. It was mostly a good idea except for a couple of crucial mistakes.

One mistake was simply overlooking that I had paid more to ship a particular gift that the gift cost. It was what I wanted, and it was being delivered by second day air service so I knew this item would arrive no problem.

In fact the items I was most worried about came along nicely. Some things I had not been able to acquire directly from Amazon I purchased either from an Amazon marketplace associate or on eBay. The key on both systems is feedback, so I picked out someone who had the items I wanted and had excellent feedback for ship time and seemed to have a friendly vibe as well. These items arrived before any of the other items, and more quickly than all but the two-day. In fact I think one of these private sellers must have done what I try to do, which is turn it around surprisingly fast whenever possible and try to get it to the customer a day sooner than they expected. This always generates amazingly happy feedback.

The tricky part was when I believed that junk about all the packages arriving via UPS 3-day select (sometimes ground and sometimes air service) getting my package to me Dec 22. I made my plans to have these gifts in Georgia while I was visiting there rather than counting on them not arriving before Christmas but after, thus needing to have them sent to North Carolina. I figured, well, if the items don't arrive Friday, surely they'll be available Saturday, and surely they'd even make the effort for Sunday if need be to save me from the wrath of family ridicule!

I thought all of this in spite of the past experiences I have had with UPS being transformed from the company that was trying harder and did a better job than the USPS, to the company that progressively became harder and harder to communicate with for a happy result. In the somewhat early days and up until the late eighties and early nineties, it was easy stuff working with UPS. If the driver left a note on the door, you could call in and say, “Hey where's my driver going to be about 4pm today?” They'd tell you and you could catch him a few blocks away and get your stuff pronto. At Christmas or when there was some big deal at least for you, if you lived at a hub, as Greensboro is, you could drive down there and knock on the door and somebody would come help. It was informal, relaxed, and it felt like they cared, even if they called you a name as soon as you were gone from view.

Over the years UPS got bigger, more a tool of bigger businesses, and harder to get any straight info from, and more isolated. I remember one Christmas realizing that the hub was all very different now, and you could get nowhere near that door you might knock on to ask a person for a bit of going the extra mile. It just wasn't going to happen.

This experience has had a profound influence on all of my shipping decisions since then, and as I became involved in eBay sales as pickandroll (a basketball play, plus pick like guitar and roll like on skates) and via my websites like blakelambert.com, I used US Postal Service whenever it was close in price and of course always when cheaper. A few years ago the dividing line seemed to be six pounds or so, meaning if the package were under six pounds I would always use USPS, and over that I would use UPS if I could send it through a vendor who had a daily pickup and thus daily pickup pricing.

The image of the US Postal Service took a hit decades ago and has not fully recovered, but I can tell you that my experience with using USPS has been wonderful. I use mostly Priority Mail, which is basically first class for items over 13 ounces. But my experience with First Class has been stellar, and Media Mail, while ground service, has arrived in good condition from all accounts. In obtaining 1300 positive feedbacks I probably have shipped 2000 packages easily, and very very few have gone awry. This is especially true now that I do not give feedback until the buyer has given it. Before that, some guys seem to have been trying to get an extra item free by claiming it was lost or stolen, holding me hostage with a threat of negative feedback. I want totally happy customers still, but I don't hear from these folk like I used to when they were trying to get me to do something outside of our agreement, either send them free product or pay return shipping when that is not what we agreed on up front.

When buying, of course, I usually will still pick USPS because they are willing to work on Saturday and I believe they even work on Sunday before Christmas this year to deliver express mail. Now that FedEx planes are carrying USPS mail out of Greensboro (as I understand it, and this is supported by the appearance of FedEx drop boxes and more visibility for their services at post offices), I know packages are going to hit Cali very fast using just the Priority Mail level, and I can send a half pound stuffed penguin to Hawaii (he'll be hot though) for under $15. Try sending to Hawaii or Alaska with UPS! They'll charge for the trouble, whereas US Postal Service sends to these states for the same rates I pay for service to Cali. For discobeds.com beds to Alaska and Hawaii, I use USPS exclusively and save my customers tons of money by doing so.

But all of these thoughts were not in my mind when I was selecting my Christmas gifts. I just saw the red message saying if I ordered now my items would arrive Dec 22. That seems positively early to a procrastinator like me! So I made the mistake of thinking I'd risk shipping to where I was going to be before Christmas rather than shipping to where I would be Christmas night and the week after. I forgot the trucks are brown for a reason...to remind you of the crappy service when it is crunch time.

So I drove through Greenville, SC into the night on the 21st in mild to moderate rain, the first such we've had in at least a week of glorious weather in North Carolina and much of the Sunbelt. I didn't think much about it and got up the next day to go over to where I used to work, where they were working a half day and I was going to get my stuff to give away.

Then eebee called me from back at the dock and said “your stuff's not here; can you come back?”

Wow. The nightmare begins. Of course this is a “problem of the rich” as I call it. Although I am officially poor in this country, I'm rich compared with those needing mosquito nets that cost a day's labor in places of the world. And I by myself can figure oh well it'll come a few days later, but not everyone will see it so casually and I like to avoid disappointing as many people as I can without becoming someone I'm not. And I'm big on not promising stuff you don't plan to do, as I probably do that so I hate to see it in others!

Still, I was thinking, no problem. I had thought (and still do) that I had gone into QuantumView or QuantumNotify and asked for exceptions emails to be sent to me. But I had not received any, as they hit my cel phone and make it ring a special way, as do all shipping and prepaid order events and successful auctions. Nothing.

So I got onto ups.com and looked at tracking:

  • WEST COLUMBIA, SC, US 12/22/2006 7:05 A.M. ARRIVAL SCAN
  • SPARKS, NV, US 12/19/2006 10:39 P.M. DEPARTURE SCAN
  • SPARKS, NV, US 12/19/2006 12:25 P.M. ORIGIN SCAN

So I thought no problem. The package is in Columbia, 219 miles away. This is easy. They'll bring it tomorrow since they were late. No biggie.

My first conversations with UPS were a bit hopeful, too. As upset as I was about having to go pick this item up at Doraville, GA, thinking they should find me instead of me them, I felt there was a great chance I'd get the goods in time to distribute them on the big day.

Then I noticed that each person I talked with had a different opinion. The most matter-of-fact view was that this was not going to hit Doraville 'til Tuesday, hush hush, and that they can't even divert the package until it has already been taken to the original delivery point and comes off the brown truck. There is apparently no way to flag a package, according to several UPS employees, such that when it comes into a hub and is scanned, a message appears to say, hey, this package doesn't go on this truck but should now be sent elsewhere.

And then there was the talk of God. This package was not delayed because of the frailty of humans. I could have accepted that. No. This package was delayed by an act of God! I could handle this if UPS were always advertising about God and being Godly and worshipy like they believed, and if they were spreading a message of love and acceptance throughout the universe. But this is not so. They used the God card to explain why they were not going to be able to work to make this happen, and to keep from paying to have it diverted to me at a higher level of service.

What troubled me, and no one could explain for the longest time, was, if the package arrived and was scanned in Columbia, SC, why couldn't I go get it? If it were scanned, it would not be in the middle of a pallet most likely, it would be off of a truck for some reason, right? If it arrived in Columbia, SC at 7:05am Friday, surely folk were going to work Friday, and Saturday, and even Sunday to deliver by Christmas, right? Ha!

Call after call either to the Doraville hub (which could do nothing and know nothing I admit, or at least not really tell me what they might know about another hub) or to various UPS toll-free numbers went with no explanation of this. How could the package be in Columbia and not get to me if you guys are working until 8pm on Friday and 8 to 5pm on Saturday? Weather delays, or act of God, aside, I knew that there was only mild rain when I came through and unless they had heat stroke from the sunny mid-sixties weather, there was no weather delay to be had.

No one at UPS could tell me where the weather delay was. No one could tell me anything I didn't know from looking at tracking. There was no record available to me, certainly, of where this package had actually gone. But it says it was scanned in Columbia, SC!

So late in the night as we got ready to watch the Peter Jackson movie, Heavenly Creatures, the first movie I recall seeing Kate Winslet in, I called UPS again several times, only to be told by the answering machine that due to unusually high call volume (after midnight?) they could not help me, click.

Then I called Amazon. The guy that answered there said we know two things: it's not lost and it's late. Huh?

The package is late, but it is not lost, and it will be delivered tomorrow.

Huh? Well the problem with that is, the business is closed and I could go sit out there with a laptop hooked up to a power converter by my car waiting, but I'd like to be sure you know what you're talking about before I do that. How do you know my package will be delivered tomorrow? Is it in Doraville?

Hmm. The operator seemed less certain the more I asked. If it's in Doraville, why does it not show both a departure scan from Columbia and a delivery scan from Doraville, and an out-for-delivery notice from Doraville. Can you give me any piece of information that supports your claims that it is not lost and that it will be delivered tomorrow.

Amazon man calls UPS. UPS machine tells Amazon man no dice bro, we have some unusually high call volume. Amazon man says he'll let me talk with his supervisor. Amazon comes back and says SuperAmazon man will call me as soon as he's off the phone with his current customer.

We watch the movie and wait until 3am for SuperAmazon man to call. Nope. Ha! What an idiot I am! Oh look, here's a survey by email! Ha!

All this time, the latest info is the 7:05am “arrival scan” from West Columbia, SC. My stuff is 219 miles away and entirely inaccessible, it seems.

Now it occurs to me that “customer care” has come to mean “finding the lie that most calms the customer into a sense of resignation.” It's “get them through denial, anger, bargaining and depression into the acceptance phase.”

Overnight, what little there was, I checked tracking. Nothing. I read about QuantumView to see if I could snag more info. Surely there was more that no one was telling.

I called Amazon again. A nice woman was moderately helpful and called UPS to see what she could find. Nothing much. Nothing new. No explanation for why the package would just be sitting there for 32 hours with no activity. I registered my complaint about either the failure of the supervisor to call or the lie from the agent that said an Amazon agent would call.

Now back to UPS. I had two phone numbers for toll-free, and the Doraville number too. I checked with Doraville to see if they knew anything. No. The driver, Darryl Lane, was the only UPS employee who seemed to care and to want to get that package to me. I called the number Amazon gave me for UPS and it was the abnormally high call volume number.

I called the other UPS number and finally heard there would be a wait but I'd be able to talk with an agent. This one seemed nice and intelligent and most importantly, forthcoming. Now that could be just that she got that part down about telling me the thing that would get me to acceptance, but I didn't feel that was it. (Who knows?) Here is what she told me she believed...

There was NEVER any PHYSICAL scan of my item. There were only LOGICAL scans. I was quickly remembering time I spent picking and packing in a pharmaceutical warehouse for a few months a few years back. I can't recall every package being physically scanned, but labels were generated which is a similar data event. We stacked pallets and wrapped them and once that was done, no individual package is going to be physically scanned (though there could be RF tags).

These scans, in my view, are logical scans that mean the pallet came into Sparks, NV hub and then went out again bound for West Columbia, SC. The next scan that lists Columbia, SC mentioning the weather delay was generated by West Columbia to say, hey, that pallet we were expecting is not here. She could not tell me if the arrival scan meant the freight truck container containing my items was in Columbia, SC, but she believed the items were not there. That means either she or UPS are lying, right? Either she's telling me the package is not at Columbia so I will stop asking why couldn't they get it from Columbia to Doraville in 24 hours or so, or UPS is simply lying that the truck arrived in Columbia, SC. I'm not sure which to believe. I'm happier for some reason thinking they could not get the stuff to Columbia than I am thinking they got it there and then just didn't care enough to help all the people whose stuff won't arrive because they only got 3-day select. “That'll teach 'em to get 2nd day air,” I can hear them say.

I should note at this point that 2 packages came from small-timers on Amazon and eBay, one arrived fine via UPS from Jo-Ann stores, and one arrived in good order from FedEx 2nd day air, and another arrived on time from UPS 2nd day air. All of these were sent to North Carolina.

Alas, “if only,” as the codependents say. If I had just had it all shipped to North Carolina, it likely would have been routed through Greensboro, and may not have been delayed, or were it delayed it would likely arrive Tuesday (it appears now). My understanding now is that it must come to Doraville, be delivered to find the business closed, then be sent to where I will be in North Carolina. They said they could upgrade the level of service if I didn't mind paying! They made no mention of God picking up the charges since according to them it was his fault.


eebee's picture

UPS 18-Wheeler in same Crash as Live Ammo Truck in TX

I was wondering if there was news anywhere, specifically South Carolina, regarding any UPS semi's that may have become engulfed in flames or spilled their contents all over the road. So I did a search and found a story about a fatal crash on Dec 19th near Waco, TX. Basically, someone transporting insulation material in an unsafe way in the back of their pick-up truck, lost that insulation on the expressway. This caused backed-up and fully-stopped traffic. Along comes (18 wheeler) truck #1, carrying 700 lbs of live ammo, and slams into truck #2, killing ammo truck driver, and eventually exploding. Truck #2, a Wild West Express semi, slams into truck # 3, AT&T, killing the AT&T driver. Truck # 3 slams into the back of truck #4, a UPS semi. 300 UPS packages were destroyed, but this is nothing compared to those poor drivers who lost their lives.

2 news stories where I got my info:



Other than that, the other more foggy and vague solution is that the Colorado blizzards caused massive delays for co's like UPS & FEDEX. But this would only help Blake's problem if the package was still supposed to be out west somewhere, and not already in S. Carolina!

roadskater's picture

UPS Arrival Scan Scam Update

Yes I am keeping in mind that people are dying in Darfur, and this is all very minor stuff compared with people I see wandering Lee Street from Urban Ministry to the Salvation Army, self-employed folk with shopping carts looking for copper and anything else that converts easily to cash, like Martin Herringbone HD-28 acoustic guitars and Toshiba notebooks. 

Notwithstanding, here's an update on the shipping fiasco and what bugs me the most, the lies.

Now UPS is saying there is recent a departure scan back in Colorado. So it is likely that my stuff never was in South Carolina.

The new "rescheduled" delivery date is Dec 29. How can a 3-day select package be rescheduled for 4 business days later, 10 days after the original ship date? One would think they would still be attempting to get the package here within 3 business days of this scan at the very worst. So here's the latest scan, or scam, as the case may be:


I'll call later to see if this is a "physical" scan or a "logical" scan.

roadskater's picture

The Latest on God Delaying My UPS Christmas 2006 Packages

So here's the latest version of what a UPS employee says happened. The package had to be sent to West Columbia, SC due to weather conditions. (It was likely bound for Commerce City, CO.) After sitting around for 2 days and 2 hours it was routed to Commerce City, CO but there is no arrival scan there, only a departure scan. This employee said all of these scans were physical scans, not logical scans, except for the weather note. That is a direct contradiction to what the previous deceptionist had said. Here's the updated info on this 3-day select package, and I have a call in to send the package to where I am finally. They were wrong about the updated delivery date of Friday, sending it on Tuesday instead, which is only good if you are able to be there and not at all helpful in terms of planning. They were unwilling to offer any sort of upgrade since they ended up delivering with in the three days if you add one for the Act of God. No word on WHICH God UPS believes in. Here's the current info:

  • DORAVILLE, GA, US 12/26/2006 7:21 A.M. OUT FOR DELIVERY
  • HAPEVILLE, GA, US 12/26/2006 5:59 A.M. ARRIVAL SCAN
  • LOUISVILLE, KY, US 12/26/2006 4:41 A.M. DEPARTURE SCAN
  • LOUISVILLE, KY, US 12/24/2006 1:57 P.M. ARRIVAL SCAN
  • WEST COLUMBIA, SC, US 12/22/2006 7:05 A.M. ARRIVAL SCAN
  • SPARKS, NV, US 12/19/2006 10:39 P.M. DEPARTURE SCAN
  • 12/19/2006 12:25 P.M. ORIGIN SCAN

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