What with the impact of the pandemic (among other things) on the USPS this year and the holidays just around the corner, I wanted to bring you up to speed on where the USPS currently stands, some changes they have made, and what this means for you.
Don't forget that I am a buyer, too. An irreplaceable mourning china tea set took over a month to reach me with almost NO tracking updates, and I was worried sick. Likewise, I've placed orders with big companies that looked like they never left the warehouse, only to get ZERO response from the store's customer service. I'm right there with you! Having made it almost to the end of the year unscathed, I wanted to share the specific information I've learned so that you can make the best decision when you are choosing a shipping option.
First of all- Yes, there have been delays. In the past, I only ever experienced one or two USPS hiccups per year, usually around the holidays. The thing is, since everyone is buying online due to the pandemic, the USPS is experiencing holiday volume all year round, on top of staff reductions and the elimination of overtime. Specifically:
- Ground, and Parcel Select/First Class packages are experiencing the worst delays because those are the cheapest options available and therefore account for the most volume. When I filed a report for a missing package a few months ago, a USPS employee told me that these classes may take a whopping 6-8 weeks (!) to reach their destination. She explained that there are so many packages sent via these classes, sometimes they experience a backlog and sit in massive shipping containers for days or even weeks!
- Priority Mail packages are no longer guaranteed to arrive within 3 business days.
In addition to delays, something else you might experience is missing tracking information or no tracking updates altogether. Most of the time, the package IS, in fact, in USPS custody and moving along, but it either missed its arrival scan or missed one or more scans along the way. So, on your end, it might look like the package never got shipped in the first place, got stuck somewhere, or just dropped off the map. If this happens to you, usually filing a Missing Mail report online is enough to ameliorate things, especially if it turns out the package really IS stuck in limbo somewhere. My experience with USPS customer service has been excellent: On the few occasions when I have had to file these reports, a real human from the USPS actually picked up the phone and called me to help resolve my issue, which is a level of service I was not expecting.
All this said, I can tell from monitoring my orders and reading your feedback that the majority of my packages ARE arriving on time. I also wanted to assure you that every single package that was delayed or went AWOL for a while this year, whether incoming or outgoing, DID arrive eventually. Certainly, the problem seems to be much less severe than it was over the summer. I applaud the hardworking and undaunted workers of our USPS, who are making every effort to do their jobs under impossible and unprecedented circumstances. For what it's worth, I have experienced the exact same problems with UPS and FedEx, whose postage rates are MUCH higher, so I still feel that the USPS is the best and most cost-effective way to go.
So what shipping option should you choose?
All books and ephemera can be shipped media mail, which usually costs less than $5 and is a mail class that does not seem to be highly impacted by delays. Media mail packages usually take abut 2-10 business days to arrive, so it's a great option if you have time to wait. Beyond that, I still think your best bet is Priority, if it's affordable for you. Even though they removed that 3-day guarantee, almost all of my Priority packages are arriving within 3-business days anyway, and the postage comes with free insurance up to $100. The way I see it, the less time the package spends in limbo, the fewer opportunities there are for something to go wrong. When I'm buying postage for my orders, I notice that frequently it's just a few bucks to upgrade to Priority, so to me, it's worth it for the peace of mind. You might also want to keep in mind these recent rate changes:
I don't know about you, but I don't want to pay 7% MORE for a First Class package that might take a whole month or more to show up.
Shopping Internationally? Looks like international shipments are taking about 1-2 months on average for First Class International, which is what most of you choose because it's cheapest. The length of time is hard to predict because it depends largely on how long the package takes to get through customs, both outgoing from the US and incoming to your country. Consider paying extra to have your package shipped priority, which also comes with tracking.
No matter what you're buying, my general advice is to allow yourself a larger window of wait time in case there are unexpected delays. If you have any questions at all about a prospective or existing order, please feel free to reach out to me any time. I am always here to help you make up your mind or troubleshoot an issue!
My sincerest thanks to all of you for being so patient and gracious as we navigate this bizarre year and its WTF moments together. A small business owner's worst nightmare is for something to go wrong that is out of our control, but I'm proud to say I have both an extremely conscientious local post office and the kindest customers in the world. There's not a Karen among you!