Wait A Minute, Mr. Postman

There was a time when the Postal Service was so reliable and trustworthy people actually used it to mail their children. Could you imagine trying to track your kid?

“Hey Honey? I wonder when little Johnny’s going to show up? Shouldn’t he have been here a few days ago?”

The Postal Service is one of our oldest government institutions and Americans have relied on it to consistently deliver mail since 1775. In 1914 when packages were added to a Carrier’s load, people started shipping… people… because the service was so reliable. A couple even wrote the Postmaster General asking his advice on the best way to wrap a baby. We can only hope parenting has evolved over the years, but anyone who’s shopped online lately has probably noticed the Postal Service is going in the opposite direction.

Maybe it was the Avian Flu of 1918 but thankfully the Postal Service put a stop to shipping people that year. When another pandemic gripped the world in 2020, the once reliable Postal Service that could safely deliver babies and people struggled to deliver less precious packages. Obviously whoever wrote the Carrier’s unofficial oath of delivering in snow, heat, rain or gloom of night never saw a worldwide pandemic coming. But then again, who of us did?

Newman from Seinfeld once said , “…the mail never stops! It’s relentless. Every day it piles up more and more and more and then the barcode reader breaks and then it’s Publisher’s Clearing House Day!”

Add a pesky, deadly virus to the mix that increased online shopping by 44% between 2019 and 2020, and you have a gargantuan problem. Not only was the Postal Service unprepared, but their employees were getting sick and those who weren’t, were afraid to go to work for fear of catching COVID-19.

Last year un-scanned mail started piling up in local post offices and the same packages that would normally take three and a half days to arrive at their destinations were taking 5 and a half to seven days instead. Add a weekend in there and some online orders could take two weeks to show up, if they arrived at all. Again, so glad babies can’t travel by mail anymore.

I have always believed that the first rule of management is “everything’s your fault” so I’m not putting the blame on the Mail Carriers and other employees. In reality, it’s quite the opposite. The Postal Service has struggled for decades and now that we’re spending more time waiting for our joggers or that new foaming face wash to arrive, we’re all beginning to notice it’s in real trouble.

As a small e-commerce business owner, dealing with a failing Postal Service has become a daily nightmare. Much like the parents of little Johnny not a day passes when we don’t worry if our precious packages will ever make it into the hands of our customers. Delivering orders fast is imperative to the success of a small e-commerce business and delivering them late can kill it. When our customers started complaining about their orders not arriving or coming two weeks late, we really freaked out. Making great products is one thing, but if those garments don’t make it to our customers, we might as well close shop.

Small businesses like ME have relied on the USPS to ship everything for them. From make-up to clothing and puzzles to paint, the United States Postal Service used to be the most affordable and most reliable way to get orders to our clients.

Sure, there are others like UPS and FedEx but using those services costs a small biz like ME almost double what it costs to ship an order thru the Postal Service and believe it or not, the cost of shipping has become one of the biggest costs of doing business online.

There was a time customers wouldn’t blink an eye if they were being charged for shipping, but like my trusty Apple Shuffle, those days are long gone… or lost in that tiny pocket of my favorite Gore Tex jacket.

Amazon changed all that and now charging shipping on orders over a small, minimum amount is not the best way to succeed in e-commerce and as much as I hate to admit it, I totally get it. I’m one of those customers and as soon as shipping is slapped onto my total, I either look to add something to hit the free-shipping minimum or leave that site altogether. The thing is… unlike Amazon, little guys like ME don’t have our own delivery service and in order to compete by offering free shipping, we must use the Postal Service.

I have trouble understanding how in a time when so many people are ordering online, is it possible the Postal Service is still struggling to make money? My thought is more packages, more shipping, more money, right? Unfortunately, there is so much more to it.

COVID-19 definitely changed everything in our world, but the problems we’re facing with the Post Office aren’t all due to the pandemic. Back in 1970, after an eight day, illegal national postal carrier strike known as the wildcat strike our government passed the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act. The act replaced the Post Office Department with a hybrid government agency and corporation that would provide full collective-bargaining rights to employees, become financially self-supporting, and continue to provide universal service at reasonable rates. Although the USPS provides a service mandated by the Constitution and federal law, it has received no federal funds since 1982, relying on postal product sales to keep revenue ahead of expenditures.

Did you get that? Today, the Postal Service is the only government owned institution that does not receive any federal funding.

That means that when email, texts and online bill paying increased, volume dropped and the money the Postal Service made decreased. To make matters worse, in 2006, the 109th Congress passed the Postal Accountability & Enhancement Act forcing the Postal Service to prepay its health and pension benefits for future employees 75 years in advance. No other government agency or institution has ever been forced to prepay 75 years of their health and pension benefits upfront. Seeing there was no federal funding to help them with this, any money made went into these upfront costs and after 2006, the Postal Service has never gotten out of the red.

Even before people were tired of waiting for their yoga gear and knitting needles to finally arrive, last year, the House finally passed a measure to repeal the Postal Service’s mandate to pre-fund healthcare benefits and pensions for retirees but the damage was done. 2020 ended with the Postal Service drowning in 9.2 billion dollars of debt.

No man is an island and no small, e-commerce business can ship to one without the help of an affordable and reliable delivery service. For ME, that’s the USPS, and until we find a reasonably priced, reliable alternative, it will probably continue to be them. Every day we ship our orders, we know there’s a chance someone’s won’t arrive on time and occasionally one may be lost. What’s more frustrating is the cost of that lost or late order falls back onto ME, the small retailer.

Managing the dollar loss is one thing, but managing the customer loss is another. Most of us don’t think twice about reordering from an online retailer when everything goes well, but when delivery isn’t seamless and things show up three weeks after you’ve forgotten you actually ordered those hot pink pillows with the smiley faces on them, there’s a big chance you won’t return to that site. It could be because they’re more hideous in person and your desire to brighten up your living room has faded now that the days are getting longer, but chances are the delay in getting your order made you lose faith in that company.

For an e-commerce retailer, return business is the only way to build up business and as long as the Postal Service struggles to deliver orders, a small online retailer will struggle to build theirs.

Plus, who’s the first person you’re going to contact when your order doesn’t arrive? Probably the retailer you purchased it from who did everything in their power to ship it to you fast only to have the Postal Service lose it or stash it away until an employee gets thru the mound of packages waiting to be processed.

Like all things lately, any discussion about the Postal Service seems to turn into a political discussion, but ignoring what’s happening to this beloved institution will only divide us more. For years, Conservatives have long argued that privatizing the Postal Service is the only way to fix it, but this long standing government agency should not be for sale. Getting and sending mail is part of our Constitutional right and selling this off to a private corporation will only lead to more racial and ethnic disparity. 

That’s because marginalized communities rely heavily on our Postal Service to deliver medications, important information and even financial support. What’s more the Post Office has historically provided an avenue toward middle-class stability for a wide variety of Americans—veterans, new immigrants, rural migrants—but for no group has it been more important than for African Americans. The Post Office was for many years the nation’s largest employer of black workers; in the decades that followed its conversion into the USPS, blacks were at least twice as likely to work for the Postal Service as whites. The Postal Service today is 37 percent minority and 37 percent female. Privatizing this government institution risks making it unaccountable and that will only increase the divisions among us.

Fixing the Post Office should be on the minds of every American. It’s one of the oldest government institutions and it provides a valuable service that will be impossible to live without. The solution is complicated and there’s been so much mismanagement that the fix is far from simple.

But a step in the right direction is to write your Congress people and ask them to immediately fund the Postal Service again. Without this help, the Postal Service may never survive.

Sure, I may have more at stake because my business relies on it, but anyone who cares about equity, diversity and protecting the rights of others should be focusing their energy on speaking up and getting the Postal Service back to where it was hundreds of years ago.

Shipping our packages reliably doesn’t have to be a thing of the past. Let’s just draw the line at the baby delivery.

– Germaine Caprio, MAJAMAS EARTH Company Owner & Designer

Let ME know:

Do you have any stories about recent shipping delays?

Please share your own thoughts with us – let’s get a conversation started in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Wait A Minute, Mr. Postman

  1. What a read!!!! this was so interesting, and I learned a LOT that I didn’t know. We are a small business also, and depend mainly on the mail service….so it definitely hit “home”! Excellent information…thanks!

    1. Yes, small businesses have really felt the impact of our failing Postal Service. We have to figure out a way to pull it out of trouble or this government institution will be lost for good. As always, thank you so much for reading and for all your support!

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