What’s in your mailbox? A better question might be what’s NOT in your mailbox. Mine has been annoyingly empty on several occasions recently. What’s up? The crushing volume of deliveries to be made during the holiday season has resulted in a behemoth backlog.
Santa delivered Christmas presents in a timely fashion, but U.S.P.S. is still working on getting an unprecedented volume of such packages to their intended destination. Despite the desire for the “swift completion of their appointed rounds” by mail carriers, that goal was unattainable in 2020 continuing on in to 2021. Don’t blame snow or rain or heat or gloom of night for the delays. Let’s unmask (pun intended) the culprit. It’s COVID-19 and the consequences thereof.
The coronavirus achieved more than simply infecting millions and killing thousands here in the United States during 2020. It altered our lives and how we carried out regular tasks and celebrated cherished holidays. The crafty coronavirus even toyed with the postal service and took it for a roller coaster ride. The strategy was the classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news was that the U.S.P.S., which has seen steep declines in volume over the past few years, saw an unprecedented surge in business; the bad news was that this astronomical volume was a tidal wave which swept U.S.P.S. underwater unable to keep pace with the delivery demands. Glub! Glub!
The pandemic created a perfect storm which has paralyzed the postal service. Quarantines and illness among the 644,000 postal employees caused a shortage of workers. According to the American Postal Workers Union, nearly 19,000 U.S.P.S. workers were in quarantine at the end of 2020. And, of course, the end of the year (think Christmas) is a bad time to be short on workers when it’s the busiest delivery time annually.
As the availability of postal employees went down, the demand for deliveries skyrocketed. Because of health concerns, people opted not to personally deliver packages in their local area. It’s safer to mail it, they concluded. Because of health concerns, people thought it best not to travel to spend the holidays with family back home. We’ll have to mail their gifts to them instead, they concluded. Because of health concerns, people shied away from going to malls and other shopping venues where public contact was required. Let’s buy it online and have it shipped, they concluded. Bottom line? Everything had to be delivered. Hear that sound? It’s the tidal wave crashing over the head of U.S.P.S.
The role e-commerce played in the Christmas crush was huge. On Cyber Monday alone online shopping totaled $34.4 billion, an increase of 20% from 2019. During November and December 2020, e-commerce sales were up 33% from the previous year. While many online retailers utilize private delivery services such as UPS and FedEx, those services imposed deadlines for receipt of items for Christmas delivery. Senders who missed the deadline had no choice but to turn to U.S.P.S. to get massive amounts of their items delivered. And many of us, me included, are still waiting for our packages. And waiting. And waiting.
Where are these endlessly “in transit” packages? Widely circulated on the internet are pictures of U.S.P.S. processing and distribution centers across the country filled to overflowing with them. According to a December 28th news report, bays at the Cleveland Post Office were packed with boxes that had yet to be gone through. Due to the sea of incoming packages, trailers were obtained to hold them at annexes in the area. News articles contain stories of folks whose packages traveled to a center in New York and haven’t moved for weeks. I can see a package wanting to hang out in a center in Florida during the winter, but who wants to cool their heels (literally) in New York in December?
In addition to packages, the backlog has affected mail service as well. Letters, cards, and bills have been delayed also. No one ever likes to receive a bill, but it is even worse if the bill isn’t received until after its due date. A postal worker in a Philadelphia postal plant reported that one cannot even move in the building because so much mail is stacked there. So, the check you’re awaiting is not in the mail, it’s in a stack apparently.
Delivery delays are an issue despite the postal service having hired 50,000 seasonal workers in anticipation of increased holiday business. U.S.P.S. reported to Congress that first class mail was delivered on time only 78.9% of the time during the week of November 28th. This figure was far below the service’s goal of 96% on time delivery. To deal with the historic backlog, Sunday deliveries were expanded in some cities with high volume, and employees were required to work a great deal of overtime. With extended work schedules, some postal carriers are now literally working in the gloom of night.
But don’t be too hard on the U.S.P.S. They aren’t the only mail service suffering from delivery delays. Across the pond, the U.K.’s Royal Mail is behind on deliveries as well due to “exceptionally high volumes of post.” A reported online shift to shopping due to the pandemic means that 200 million more parcels were in their post this year. I say, old chap, that’s a lot!
As frustrating as not receiving a gift or an order in a timely fashion is, if that’s the biggest complaint you can make right now, be thankful. How many people did not live to see Christmas due to COVID-19? How many individuals lost their jobs due to the coronavirus and couldn’t afford to buy Christmas gifts to be delivered? Delayed delivery of a package simply means postponed enjoyment; in the context of a pandemic, its better late than never.
Have you experienced delay in receipt of mail or packages in the past few weeks? Did you purchase anything online over the holidays to avoid going out publicly to shop? At what point does a delay during peak shipping times become unacceptable?