UPS Delivers Christmas a Day Late

The shipping company's holiday delivery mess shows private doesn't always beat public.

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Amazon's Pantry service may try to rival wholesale clubs such as Costco and BJ's.
Amazon's Pantry service may try to rival wholesale clubs such as Costco and BJ's.

It’s the day after Christmas, which means, for many holiday revelers, that their Christmas packages are just arriving today. Or maybe tomorrow.

United Parcel Service, the Georgia-based company that is the go-to package delivery option for millions of Americans, fell short – far short – of meeting holiday expectations this year. Apparently overwhelmed by the delivery demands of the season, UPS failed to get packages to customers in time to put them under the holiday tree.

The number of undelivered packages was not revealed by the company, but social media exploded with complaints from people who said they had ordered online specifically because they were guaranteed pre-Christmas delivery. In a statement, the company said:

UPS understands the importance of your holiday shipments. UPS is experiencing heavy holiday volume and making every effort to get packages to their destination.

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It’s not an acceptable explanation, just as it wasn’t a good explanation when the Obama administration said its health care website wasn’t working right because it was overwhelmed with traffic the first day people could go online to sign up for insurance. It is – or should be – someone’s job to figure out that when one is in a big-demand season, there needs to be enough staff to handle it. No one put it better than Saturday Night Live: It’s like 1-800-FLOWERS being taken by surprise by Valentine’s Day.

But there’s another issue here, and that is the public/private bias. Why is Amazon using UPS instead of the U.S. Postal Service? I ordered two books and a CD from Amazon 10 days before Christmas, and my package arrived (thankfully) late afternoon on Christmas Eve. The packages I sent through the U.S. Post Office arrived exactly as promise: When I got two-day Priority delivery, it got there in two days. And ("free" shipping aside), the U.S. postal service is cheaper than the private alternatives.

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There seems to be a persistent idea that a private entity is always better or more efficient than a public one. You have people who spent many tens of thousands of dollars to attend some private college which offers no better education than many of the public institutions out there. But the graduates behave as though they’ve gotten some superior level of instruction, just because they didn’t have to go to school with the socio-economic riff-raff. There is, of course, a difference between state universities and pricey private colleges, of course. You can’t buy your way into a public school.

My mail arrives every day it’s supposed to – on time, and delivered by a cheerful and dedicated public servant, a mail carrier who managed to get mail to my building during Hurricane Irene, Superstorm Sandy and all kinds of bad weather. It’s a shame UPS didn’t get packages to people on time. Next year, two changes could fix the problem: the private company could hire enough staff to handle and deliver packages. Or consumers could just use the reliable U.S. Postal Service.