Magical Packages

Check *this* shit out. The USPS has Santa on the crew or something doing some kinda crazy North Pole time-and-space bending magic:

The tracking says refused. Customer didn’t refuse it. It was returned to *me.* In Alabama.

They’re just freakin’ making shit up at this point. I don’t even know how it’s possible that the scan for delivery shows what it does – I don’t know enough about their computers. But obviously it’s not a seamless, foolproof tracking system :/

I’m really lucky that the overwhelming majority of my customers are being really super cool about this insanity and aren’t taking it out on me. I’m really grateful, y’all, and I’m hating this real hard. I can’t wait to see the end of this BS. It has been taking up an inordinate amount of resources: my time, my money, my attention, the hair on my head that wasn’t yet gray…

Since I don’t know what caused all of this or if it could still happen, I am currently handling shipping this way:

I make sure I generate shipping labels for dates when one of us can either go stand in line and physically hand packages to an employee inside the post office, or when we can get a confirmed appointment for pickup by our carrier as part of her regular route.

Sometimes this means I cannot ship every day. While this has the potential to increase your handling time by a few days, I’m hoping it also drastically increases the chances of your actually getting your package (and ideally before an entire calendar month has passed).

If you’re shopping at SeraphinStation.com, I’ve made a UPS option available for domestic shipping, as well, if you’d rather go that route. If you’re on Etsy and want a different option, just let me know and I’ll be happy to set something up.

If you’ve been waiting longer than usual for a package but it is slowly making its way in the right direction and hasn’t turned completely around or had some truly weird tracking status info attached, then I’d urge you to just please keep on being patient. The mail just plain takes longer these days, and tracking is not really a granular, real-time thing like with a tracking chip keyed into a GPS and shit, you know? They can obviously get a computer to say a box has been delivered in Ohio when it’s actually in Alabama, as I discovered for myself this week :/

And keep in mind that your sellers don’t have any secret knowledge about your package status – they have exactly the same info you have, that tracking number and that info on the tracking website. Pestering or blaming your sellers about this whole mess is sort of pointless – it just creates more work and stress for your sellers without creating more clarity or speed around your item delivery. I can just about guarantee you that if this stresses you out, it has stressed your seller out exponentially worse, ’cause they’re worrying over your package but also the packages of all their *other* customers.

If your package is returned to me, I’ll email you and let you know. Otherwise, I don’t know anything more than you know. Yes, the USPS will still search for missing items and answer messages, but this wasn’t done at lightning speed before COVID, so I’m sure you can imagine how this is not a magic fix now :/

And if you know something that the package status isn’t showing/explaining, by all means do let me know. I will absolutely work with you on the best solution to getting your package in your hands as quickly and efficiently as possible, but this whole mess definitely requires both ends of the transaction to do a lot of “hurrying up and waiting” lately.

this isn’t just the USPS being overwhelmed – this is some kind of shady shit

This item was a shrine/ornament – no prep work involved. No extended handling time or anything. I took it off its altar, blessed it, wrapped it up in tissue paper, boxed it, paid the $35-something for the shipping label because the customer paid for Priority Mail Express, and sent it out that same day for Mike to drop off at the post office. *Which he did, before C.O.B.*

Here’s what the tracking says:

December 13, 2020, 3:58 pm
Shipping Label Created, USPS Awaiting Item
GRAND BAY, AL 36541 

December 23, 2020, 5:09 am
Arrived at Post Office
GRAND BAY, AL 36541 

December 23, 2020, 7:42 am
Refused
GRAND BAY, AL 36541 

December 23, 2020, 1:33 pm
Refused
GRAND BAY, AL 36541 
Your item was refused by the addressee at 1:33 pm on December 23, 2020 in GRAND BAY, AL 36541 and is being returned to the sender.

Ok, for starters, it was not refused by the addressee. The addressee never saw it ’cause it never left this town of Grand Bay. That’s my town. It was refused by some employee at the local post office, AFTER IT SAT IN A BIN IN SAID POST OFFICE FOR TEN DAYS.

The 10 days is one thing. I don’t live under a rock (anymore). I know what’s going on and I wouldn’t be furious about a package sitting somewhere for days given everything going on around the country.

But the packages being refused by the USPS – that’s something else entirely.

The fact that they may or may not approve a refund request depending on somebody’s whim in a system that’s totally opaque to me is yet another.

Now I’m thinking they’re sitting on these packages for however long because they’re overwhelmed, and by the time the package gets scanned, it’s days or even a week or more past the label ship date, and they’re refusing them for that, maybe.

Except that doesn’t have anything to do with me, so they have no business refusing my packages. If it wasn’t scanned on the label ship date, that’s not my fault. But they’ve got it looking to the customer like I sat on my ass for 10 days and didn’t take their package to the post office for over a week, which is just totally fucked up.

Now that tracking showing refusal isn’t counting as the label being “used” in the system, so it did let me file for a refund. But there’s no guarantee they’ll approve the refund. They didn’t approve one the other day. And it might be 30 days before I know if it’s approved or not. But I have to solve the problem for the customer today, refund or no refund.

So what happens if I schedule a pickup on a business day and they don’t show to pick it up? When they finally pick up the package, will they refuse it at the local desk because I printed the label for the date they were supposed to show? WTF am I supposed to do? I cannot trust them in this scenario *at all.* And while I can do something like reship most of these via Fedex or UPS and just pay the difference out of pocket, 1. it will hobble me severely, and 2. I can’t do that with $30 and $40 international and express shipments. I mean, this bullshit could put me out of business – AGAIN – in a matter of days.

I’ve been rebuilding and reinvesting carefully and gradually and trying to stay on top of every cent going in and out way in advance so I have a buffer for random crazy shit. I’ve got spreadsheets out the (ahem). Every day I look at my balances, check what expenses are coming up, make a decision whether my next non-shipping cash outlay will be to refund a 2015 customer or order that next batch of packaging or essential oils or whatever. I have only paid myself for mission-critical stuff like being able to turn around and pay the ISP and power bill so I can stay in business.

Aside from that, aside from me paying myself only when I absolutely have to in order to make this thing go and putting back money for self-employment tax, every other cent that has come through my hands has gone right back into this. But considering the hole I started in, I don’t have comfortable margins and buffers here yet. Regardless of how careful I’ve been, I can’t absorb that many international or express shipment SNAFUs before I’m *screwed.*

So to say I’m upset is the understatement of the decade. It’s taking just about everything I’ve got to stave off an epic freakout – whether what’s percolating is straight-up panic or something more akin to road rage I can’t even clearly discern right now. But I have to talk myself off this ledge here ’cause I have to write this customer and ask him what he wants me to do and not sound like a crazy person in my email to him. (And he’s not the only one I have to write.)

I mean, I can’t take this personally – it’s some cosmic shit that doesn’t have my personal name on it and people all over the place are getting hit with crap they didn’t expect that makes them anxious, or worse. But the boot-print, man, it feels really familiar :/

So I just have to keep taking deep breaths and one of them is bound to work here in a minute :/

This *sucks.*

having some major and weird shipping problems

I’ve pretty much spent the last two days that I wasn’t doing chores or sleeping trying desperately to figure out what is going on with these packages the USPS has returned to me. Turns out you cannot just call somebody at the USPS and ask them lol, and my local carrier has no idea.

One of them was scanned, made it to the East Coast, and then came back to me with nothing in the system to indicate why. It was international. I cannot get a refund because it was scanned, so the label was “used.” Now I have to eat that cost and pay for a new label – but since I don’t know why it was sent back to me, I have no confidence that shipping it again will even work. So much of the last day has been spent investigating USPS alternatives, and it looks like my choices are either to roll the dice on shipping again and risk losing another $24 or to go with another shipper which will cost me at least $43 and that is with every commercial/volume discount I could finagle out of any company I could get hold of.

I can’t afford to do business like this. And I don’t want to fire the USPS as my carrier, esp. not right now. But they are not giving me a lot of choice. There have been several of these over the past month where *nothing hits the system for a week* and then it turns up back in my mailbox. In almost 15 years of shipping exclusively with USPS, hundreds of dollars worth of postage every month during most of those years, I have never, ever seen anything like this.

One of them said “refused” in the system. The customer said he didn’t refuse it. He called his local branch and they said it looked like it had been returned to me for postage due, that the system saying “refused” was an error. I have a digital scale here, but ok, maybe it’s messed up, so I’ll get new batteries and test it. So I waited for it to come back and in the meantime made him a replacement order and reshipped out of pocket.

It never came back to me. It came all the way back to my town, spent almost a week here, and then went BACK out to his town, where it was eventually delivered, over a month after the label ship date.

WTAF.

Yesterday, in desperation, I contacted the company that makes the software that I use to ship, that mediates between my website platform and USPS’s system. The person I talked to, looking at the international package, hazarded a guess that the USPS thought the oils I was shipping were flammable. I said, “Well, they aren’t. What can I do?” They said if it were domestic, I could choose ground shipping, but since it’s international, I have to pick a different carrier. I’m like, “What? But they aren’t flammable.” But there’s nothing the company can do about it and there’s nobody they can recommend I call.

I have no idea what the actual hell is going on. Or what I’m going to do about it yet. But that’s where my attention has been for the last two days.

If your package has come back to me, I will be in touch hopefully tonight with a new tracking number.

If it’s out there in the system but looks like it’s heading in the right general direction making progress towards you, however slowly, I’d ask that you be patient – the USPS is experiencing delays in delivery and system updates pretty much all over the country due to COVID and personnel issues on top of budgeting/funding issues on top of it being the holidays. They’re calling it “unprecedented volume.” If you’ve been living under a rock lately, just Google it – every major news source is talking about it.

If it is doing something weird or in a location it shouldn’t be in, I will know about it soon because i’m in the process of going through the records for every single package I’ve shipped in the last month to look for anomalies. I’ll be keeping an eye on them. Remember that shippers have no secret knowledge about package whereabouts – all they can do is look at the same tracking info online that you can look at. So writing to ask where your order is doesn’t actually do anything but slow your sellers down – your sellers know what you know, which is what the USPS is telling them via that tracking number. And right now, this is affecting everybody all over the country – well, I guess all over the world.

I’m really sorry about this, and if you’re upset, please know that it’s massively stressful for me, too, and I share your feelings. I’m working on solving these problems and I appreciate your patience. Trust me, I am NOT here to rip anybody off. I don’t want my customers to be upset. This sucks. But I’m going to figure something out.