Post Office Offers Refund In Stamps After Delivering Priority Mail Package Five Weeks Late

“I wanted to let you and my fellow readers know about the agonizing experience I had with the US postal service recently. They didn’t quite lose my “2 to 3 day” Priority Mail package, but inexplicably shipped it back and forth across the country for over 5 weeks, missing Christmas by over a week, and then told me I did not deserve a refund!”

I mailed the package on November 27, 2007 via USPS Priority Click-N-Ship from Salt Lake City to Great Neck, NY. It contained heirloom Christmas ornaments and 25-30 year old hand knit Christmas stockings that I was sending to my daughter, as we were spending Christmas at her home this year. Although the package was insured, these items are not really replaceable, so I was very distraught throughout the whole ordeal. The total postage was around $19.

Priority Mail between here and there consistently takes only 2 days, which is exactly what the web site says as well if you price the postage. After a week I feared it was lost and started calling, and calling, and calling… Over the next 4 weeks, I made at least 50 phone calls, talked to 18 different USPS employees, including several supervisors (some as many as six times) in Salt Lake City, Denver, Jersey City, NJ, and Great Neck, NY. My package was finally delivered on January 2, 2008 to Great Neck. Here are the search results from the online “Track & Confirm” link, which detail my package’s bizarre journey:

Label/Receipt Number: XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX
Detailed Results:

Delivered, January 02, 2008, 1:24 pm, GREAT NECK, NY 11021
Arrival at Unit, January 02, 2008, 8:13 am, GREAT NECK, NY 11021
Processed, December 31, 2007, 10:33 pm, KEARNY, NJ 07032
Processed, December 29, 2007, 3:27 pm, JERSEY CITY, NJ 07097
Processed, December 21, 2007, 9:39 pm, DENVER, CO 80217
Processed, December 16, 2007, 6:46 pm, JERSEY CITY, NJ 07097
Processed, December 07, 2007, 6:44 am, DENVER, CO 80217
Processed, December 02, 2007, 12:02 am, JERSEY CITY, NJ 07097
Electronic Shipping Info Received, November 27, 2007

What happened? I am still trying to find out. The first error occurred in Salt Lake City, where the package was sorted visually by an actual person. My package was put with the bulk mail, which is processed at totally different facilities than the Priority mail. Then, every time it was scanned in Jersey City, it was sent to Denver. No one can explain why this happened. I got the number for the Jersey City bulk mail center and started calling them on December 7, when I saw that it was sent to Denver. No one could explain why it was sent to Denver. What is most baffling to me is that I was told that the scanners do not recognize packages as “Priority”, despite the fact the package was prepared online and the barcodes are full of more than enough information to figure out the package is Priority mail! Apparently the postal service does not use their own informational databases to error check their package sorting. If it is incorrectly sorted at the beginning, good luck ever fixing it!

When I explained the the package contained irreplaceable items intended for Christmas, Phil and Richie in Jersey City assured me that they would “flag” the package so it would be manually removed when they got it again. That did not happen, and they sent it to Denver again! By now I was so frustrated that I was in tears. I was calling the Denver bulk mail center and the Jersey City center nearly every day. Lillian, a supervisor in Jersey City, said they had notes all over the facility to look for the package. Finally Phil found it on Saturday, December 29th, called me, and later delivered it to the nearby Priority Mail center.

Both Phil and Lillian claimed that an old UPS label on the bottom of the box was the cause of the problem, but it was not only half torn off, but also blacked out with marker. I am reasonably sure the barcode was not readable by scanner. Besides, Phil admitted the packages are scanned only once at each facility. Since my package was entered into the tracking database every time it was processed, it was obviously scanned correctly and the mutilated UPS label was not the problem. They simply refused to accept any kind of responsibility for their repeated errors.

Every person I talked to in consumer affairs during this ordeal told me I was entitled to a refund, which I certainly agreed with. After the package was finally delivered, I called, explained the situation, and requested a refund. I was told I did not qualify for a refund, because they do not guarantee any delivery except Express Mail! Despite the fact ALL of the literature for Priority Mail says “2 to 3 days”, apparently 5 weeks seems like a reasonable timeframe to them. I had to do even more calling, escalating, and fax my copy of the label (even though their own tracking database clearly shows all of the errors they made) to get my refund. After all this, they would only refund me by giving me $19 in stamps, despite the fact I had paid for the label with my credit card on their own web site. As if I ever want to send anything with the USPS again! I contacted my credit card company to initiate a chargeback.

I have learned a few things from this experience:

  • 1. If you really want any accountability, guaranteed delivery times, or solid tracking, don’t use USPS.
  • 2. Be sure to plaster Priority Mail labels all over your boxes to make sure they are sorted correctly.
  • 3. Just use FedEx, UPS, or someone else!

In the end, it still seems no one has any idea why it was sent back and forth between Jersey City and Denver in the first place, and they don’t really care enough to debug their system so it doesn’t happen again.

Thanks for reading!

Really USPS, a refund in stamps? The Post Office can guarantee delivery dates, but only if you shell out a few extra bucks. If you want an extra measure of security, or a refund in greenbacks, you can always use one of the private-sector competitors—but we hear they are no better.

(Photo: The Library of Congress)