Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2011 Issue

Gone Missing? Tracking that expensive lost shipment

This package made it to Shanghai and back - insufficient address.

This is my 32nd year in the antiquarian business as a small dealer based in Hawaii. Up until May of this year I used to boast I’d never lost a shipment.

 

Certainly I’ve had packages that were delayed and sometimes returned, especially those sent to international destinations. I had one Canadian customer who didn’t want to pay the extra $3 for priority air so his book went by sea all the way to Newfoundland and then took the boat home to Maui because Canadian customs rejected it. It only took six months, but it came back. Likewise, a recent package to China bounced for insufficient address. Here it is on my desk again six weeks later after taking a very long trip.

 

But in May I had my first shipment ever go missing:

 

The root of the problem was the address supplied by Paypal was the wrong address.

 

The customer, a former New Orleans area resident had moved after Hurricane Katrina and forgotten to take her old address out of the Paypal data base. According to the company she had two live valid addresses on file. When she bought over $500 worth of antique gravures from me she paid via Paypal and supposedly inadvertently clicked on the wrong shipping information.

 

I shipped them off to her “verified” address in Louisiana, when really she lived in Minnesota. I only learned that the package had been sent to the wrong address when she called asking worriedly – “Where are my prints?”

 

Being in the middle of the Pacific I ship priority mail and for more valuable items I always insure. So I was reasonably sure that even though the prints might be lost, at least we’d recover her money.

 

Incorrect, or shall we say, at that point, unlikely.

 

Though shipping via priority using the USPS web site provides a receipt and a tracking number, on my first round of calls I learned that the post office thinks it has done its duty when the package is delivered to the destination.

 

In reality you are not shipping to a person, you are shipping to an address. The way to guarantee that the person on the label gets the package is to add the “restricted delivery” option, which means the shipper pays an additional fee, but only the person named on the package can sign for it. The post office also now offers for a lesser fee an option which requires that the person signing must be an adult.

 

Although the package was insured for the full value the post office records showed it was delivered to the address and, at least as far as my preliminary inquiry, the verdict was Sayonara – end of story..

 

Naturally I called Paypal too.

 

Paypal advised me that only the buyer could initiate an investigation. The service rep also said she didn’t think the error was their error. She thought it was the buyer’s error, however she said – if you want us to do something have the buyer contact us. I called my client, she called Paypal.

 

Within minutes they debited my account the full amount and froze it until it was paid in full by me -- the seller.

 

Fortunately the customer was an incredibly nice person and she and I were able to work it out to our mutual satisfaction. So by the end of the day the hold was off my account. But not because Paypal had investigated or helped find out why the wrong information was still lurking in their files even though the customer had been using her right address with them for years.

 

I learned that Paypal only protects the buyer, the seller is presumed to be at fault - so for a naïve seller like me turning to Paypal (and probably any other online money transfer operation) is not a productive option.

 

No, it worked out because the customer was reasonable if heartbroken. She called to say those words so rarely uttered, “It was my mistake.”

 

We decided to keep trying. I called the Post Office again.

 

Over the years I have not been the biggest fan of the USPS, but this experience changed my mind. I found their customer service was terrific: a live person came on the line within two minutes. That person contacted my home post office and someone from my home post office called me back in less than 20 minutes.  Within a week I had progressed from a clerk, to a supervisor, to the postmaster and each of them was polite and helpful.

 

They all tried to reach the post office in Louisiana, where the phone was (and is still for all we know) permanently “busy”. When none of them could get through they bumped me up to the customer service office in Honolulu. I began phone and email communication with a diligent and helpful rep. It would be hard to imagine better service.

Rare Book Monthly

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