Frustrating encounter with the USPS


Many of you don’t know me personally. While I write about buying islands and linen pants, I’m really a numbers guy.  I tend to lead and manage by the book (and as my partners claim, I keep them and the rest of the team in line). When I encounter a lack of process and transparency, my head spins. Such is the case with a recent order from Amazon that the United States Postal Service (USPS) managed to butcher.

Here’s my tale, with apologies in advance to hard working carriers out there, after placing an order with Amazon “delivered” by the USPS. The story starts with an online tracking effort via Amazon that shows USPS attempted to deliver the package on 11/16 and 11/17th and could not. Of course this is impossible since we have 24 hour doorman and receiving room in our apartment in downtown Chicago. Then USPS says they delivered it on the 19th but there is no sign of the package. With this information, I decide to stop by the main post office on Dearborn (downtown Chicago) on the 20th (Tuesday of Thanksgiving week) and ask to see the supervisor after the front desk clerks prove useless.  The USPS team then gives me an inside look. They send me to the loading dock in the back.  After talking to 2 or 3 mail carriers, finally I get hold of the supervisor (Mr. A) who says that he’s about to leave so come back tomorrow morning at 8AM.  I show up at the loading dock at 8AM on the 21st (day before Thanksgiving) only to find out that Mr. A did not show up for work – another carrier tells me to come back after Thanksgiving. I show up at the loading dock 8AM on the 26th (Monday after Thanksgiving) and another carrier tells me – I can’t make this up even if I wanted to — that Mr. A has retired.  By now, I’m livid based on the time wasted. I ask to see Mr. A’s replacement and a carrier sends me upstairs distribution area to see a supervisor named Mr. B. It is there that I learn that apparently I’m not supposed to upstairs under any circumstances due to Home Land Security concerns. Hence my walking through the distribution center unescorted (without a badge) ruffles some feathers. Regardless, Mr. B hears my story (he was actually trying to be helpful – even gave me his personal cell number) and tracks down a carrier named Mr. C who swears up and down that he has delivered the package to my building. Mr. B asks me to wait a week until they sort it out internally.  Well, I wait a week. And there’s still no package and my calls to USPS are not returned. By now, I am done with showing up at the dock at 8AM routine too. Enough.

I contact Amazon’s customer service this morning – an interesting process by the way because there is no 800 number given on the site, only after you plug in the order number and answer a bunch of questions, the site asks you to plug in your number and press either call me now or call me in 5 min button.  I press the “call me now” button and some lady from an Indian call center rings me exactly a second or two later.  I explain the story to her. She checks my accounts and sees that we have ordered an absolutely ton of stuff from Amazon the last 10 years (and have never had issues) and promptly offers next day delivery on replacement goods.  One call from Bangalore (Amazon): problem solved. Countless run-ins and phone calls with USPS: nothing. When interacting with USPS employees on US soil, I felt like I was talking to a wall.  Amazon on the other hand, leveraged technology and friendly, a low-cost Indian customer service center and solved the problem in 5 minutes, thus keeping me as a loyal customer at the end of the day.

Is it time to retire the USPS or can anyone fix this great institution of ours?


About Richard Lee
Experienced finance and operations professional. Currently partner in five companies, adjunct professor of economics at Columbia College and executive contributor to a small business blog (; following corporate finance, M&A and management consulting tenures with Orbitz and Diamond Technology Partners; and six years of service with the United States Army.

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