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USPS Takes Consolidation a Bit Too Far

Making your customers feel happy and secure is important. You must evaluate whether your actions are accomplishing this at every step of each process that you have, because it doesn’t take much of a goof to give your paying customers the impression you only care about taking their money.

I ordered a small laptop accessory on eBay, and chose USPS First Class as the shipping method. Based on the shipper’s location (Connecticut), the ship date (the 17th), and the holiday falling in the middle, I expected delivery about Tuesday of this week.

However, when Thursday rolled around and I still didn’t have my item, I looked at the eBay item status, clicked on the tracking number, and was horrified to see a report of delivery on the 21st—IN MAINE!

I checked the addresses I had on file in eBay and PayPal, and found no explanation for this bizarre state of affairs.

So I sent a polite note to the seller, asking what happened.

I felt chagrined (and just a little bit incompetent) to read in his reply that my item was still in transit (it hit SF this morning), and that I had not noticed the delivery report I was looking had a tracking number that was not even close to matching mine.


In fact, the tracking report had a total of FIVE shipments in it. Mine was the second one listed, and completely below the fold.

I can surmise what happened.

The seller submitted a shipping report to USPS electronically for five packages he sold that day, and the USPS similarly batched up all five shipments into one report. That batched report was run in response to a query for any one of those individual tracking numbers.

Have the USPS programmers never heard of XML? Or basic, decades-old ASCII control characters like “Record Separator” and “End of Text/Transmission/etc.”?

(I suppose the problem could be eBay’s techies, and I have some inside knowledge that suggests they may not be that much more competent than the USPS techies, but this just smells like a typical federal bureaucracy SNAFU.)

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