UPS is Too Busy to Deliver my Amazon Shipments (And the Downfall of Western Society)
This is a huge problem for me, because I use Amazon a lot.
As an author, I frequently order my own books to give as gifts from Amazon, because of the company’s winning combination of low prices; fast, cheap shipping; very convenient website; and superb customer service. For my research, Amazon is my preferred way to get the reference material I need. More generally, when I know what I want — and even sometimes when I don’t — I often find that Amazon is the best way to go.
Last night I had a conversation with my local UPS dispatcher, because the GSM World phone that I was supposed to receive on Monday hadn’t arrived by Tuesday night. The dispatcher explained that the drivers were overworked, and that DOT regulations required that the drivers come off the roads after driving for the whole day. Fair enough.
“But surely my package, delayed from yesterday, will get priority today, won’t it?” I asked.
“No,” was the answer. Then the dispatcher told me that the driver still had 60 deliveries to make, which, he thought, would take 4 hours. It was 7:30pm. The driver would come off the road at 10:30pm. My package would probably be delayed a second time. True to their “We Love Logistics” slogan, the dispatcher knew exactly what was going on, and precisely why I might never get my stuff.
Now, it’s just a phone. (I want it because I’m traveling to Israel next week, and my current GSM phone doesn’t have a built-in GPS. I’m tired of getting lost in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, which is literally built in non-Euclidean space.) This obviously isn’t worth risking the welfare of the driver, and I told the dispatcher as much.
So on the one hand, this is a prime example of the much mocked “first-world problem.” As an author and scholar living comfortably in the suburbs of New York, I might not get a device of convenience dropped off at my door as quickly as I’d like.
But on the other hand, I’m worried, because I see this as part of an increasing trend that leaves critical infrastructure in the hands of private companies whose motive (quite legitimately) is profit, not service.
We used to rely on the United States Postal Service (USPS) to send things, because, at least since the Romans, we’ve known that the ability to mail things to each other is an important ingredient in civilized life. This is why the USPS offered first-class mail even to remote locations, and even at a loss.
Similarly, and for similar reasons, we used to use a regulated phone network to communicate. The phone lines in this country were built to service everyone. And, I just heard, the system was designed to work 99.999% of the time, which is to say that outages would be limited to about 5 minutes a year.
But now most people where I live use Internet phones and cell phones, so they rely on local cable and wireless providers for communication. These companies, while regulated, are not required to offer any particular level of service, the thinking being that “the market” will ensure high enough quality.
Surprisingly, everyone was surprised during Hurricane Sandy when so many people were unable to communicate. The cable and wireless providers, it turned out, were making a lot of money by skimping on reliability.
Likewise, I now find that my default way of doing my daily business is in the hands of a company that, by its own admission, isn’t up to the task.
I grew up grateful that I didn’t live in one of the many countries where things didn’t work. But is the U.S on the path to becoming one of those countries?
(Incidentally, Amazon apologized profusely for the delay — in spite of it not being their fault — and credited me what I would have paid for shipping. UPS didn’t apologize, and blamed the DOT regulations and the number of packages. More on this interesting difference soon.)