Every holiday season, the United States Postal Service gets inundated with packages and holiday cards. To help keep mail moving, USPS staffs up with temporary positions and no double-pay overtime in December. But this holiday season is proving downright crazy in some parts of the country.
To name just a few instances:
- In Cleveland, dozens of trucks waited up to 12 hours to deliver mail to the processing and distribution center. A spokesperson for the Northern Ohio District of USPS told Cleveland.com that the processing center has "faced challenges."
- People waiting on packages in Louisville said they have seen items scanned into the Louisville distribution facility only to disappear for weeks. E-commerce sellers are having similar difficulties getting packages out of the facility to be sent around the country.
- The Greensboro, North Carolina processing facility—which happens to be in Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's hometown—is experiencing similar problems as Louisville, with packages inside for extended periods.
It's hardly a mystery why this is happening. Thanks to COVID prompting people to do much more of their shopping from home, package volumes are through the roof—the USPS Reddit has near-daily photos of stuffed distribution facilities with endless lines of packages—as COVID cases yet again soar throughout the country, inevitably resulting in some postal workers getting sick or quarantining.
The dynamic is similar to the one from the summer when packages were also significantly delayed around the country. Then, the problem was exacerbated by new policies instituted by DeJoy that later got rolled back in advance of the election. The current delays don't appear to be the result of those policies being re-instituted, but rather the extreme package load surpassing even that of July and August, although the USPS has not yet released data on December's late and extra truck trips as required in ongoing litigation.
"This has been an extraordinary year of unprecedented challenges given the Covid-19 pandemic and the Postal Service is expecting significant volume increases which are difficult to predict," said USPS spokesperson Kimberly Frum in a statement to Motherboard. "The Postal Service begins planning for peak holiday season every January. To help handle the expected volume increase, the Postal Service has the ability to flex our network to meet the significant volume increases expected this year." Frum added that Sunday delivery was expanded to most major cities on November 29 and for an extra fee mail carriers will deliver packages on Christmas Day in select locations."
The current delays are significantly impacting small businesses as customers demand refunds for disappearing packages. For example, eBay told sellers it is "updating estimated delivery dates" and is giving packages 10 calendar days after the buyer marks an item not received to see some movement in the package's tracking history before a refund is issued. But in some of the most backlogged facilities, 10 days isn't enough. Independent e-commerce sellers often get refund requests much sooner. Meanwhile, the USPS is still telling customers any package ordered by December 18 will arrive by Christmas.
Bryan Tintes runs an online key-cloning service and relies on USPS to get replacement keys to customers quickly. Tintes told Motherboard he has roughly five times as many delayed packages this year as previous holiday seasons. Because some packages are taking days just to get scanned into the system, customers think Tintes hadn't mailed them yet and demand refunds. "I was expecting with the current pandemic and holiday season that there would be an increase in delays," he told Motherboard. "Honestly, I could never imagine it being this bad."
If you plan on still doing your holiday shopping online, you should probably get to that after you finish reading this sentence.