Dan Seidman, a longtime patron of the Vineyard Haven Post Office, got a message that his package from Amazon had arrived on the Island. He went to the Vineyard Haven Post Office, only to find, like so many other Vineyarders in recent weeks, that while his package may have made it to the Island, his wait for it was just beginning.
Missing packages, delayed orders, and general frustration are typical complaints with Island Post Offices, but in this summer of the coronavirus pandemic, at-home ordering has reached new levels, causing a backlog at the Post Office, even as the Trump administration is reportedly cutting resources to the federal agency. According to a report in Friday’s New York Times, the postal service has cut overtime for carriers, causing some of the delays.
The Post Office blames a more than 50 percent increase in package volume, and not enough workers to meet the demand.
Seidman’s package was shipped by Amazon using UPS SurePost, a service that includes a UPS delivery of the package to the Post Office, which then completes the “last mile” of delivery to the owner.
According to a USPS-provided tracking number, UPS delivered Seidman’s parcel to the Vineyard Haven Post Office on the evening of July 13. Seidman explained that even prepandemic, he would traditionally receive any SurePost packages roughly two days after they arrived at the Post Office.
With this in mind, Seidman visited the Vineyard Haven Post Office to pick up his Amazon package on July 16.
“This time when I went, initially the guy was not wanting to look, because I showed him my paperwork, and he sort of already knew the answer,” Seidman said. Not wanting to have braved the Post Office’s long line for nothing, Seidman requested the employee still look for his package. “He was nice,” Seidman said; “he did spend about 10 minutes checking the computer.”
The Post Office employee informed Seidman that the Post Office was currently scanning in packages delivered July 11 — a five-day backup.
Seidman’s package was delivered to his door at 6:44 pm on July 25, 12 days after it arrived at the Post Office. “Delivery person obviously had a long day,” Seidman wrote in a text message. “They should be commended. The system of transport and sorting, not so much.”
Steve Doherty, spokesman for the Northeast region of the USPS, said that the influx of packages in the past few weeks has surpassed the levels usually reached in the area at Christmastime.
“A lot of the brick-and-mortar stores have been closed up, so people have just been ordering stuff online. From what I’m being told, the occupancy down on the Island is up this year also. That combination has given us a swell of packages that rivals anything we normally see at Christmastime,” said Doherty.
Doherty noted that the recent addition of weekend hours will be limited to package pickup, and will not include retail at windows (such as buying stamps or dropping off packages). The surge in demand has also led the USPS to bring in staff from off-Island to man the Post Offices.
“We’re bringing people in off of the mainland, and beefing up the staff down there to accommodate the additional hours,” said Doherty.
Seidman is only one of the many Islanders to experience long delays, particularly with receiving packages.
One regular Amazon customer, who declined to be named for privacy reasons, said she has had a similar experience with missing packages, though she doesn’t blame the Post Office entirely.
“Just around the time that the coronavirus panic hit, suddenly they fell into chaos. Everything started taking longer, and we thought, ‘Uh-oh, Amazon is not going to fulfill our needs,’” she said. She and her daughter both rely on Amazon for regular staples.
“With the virus shutdown, it was great to not have to go to the Post Office to pick up,” she said. After an initial period of complications in March, she began receiving her packages again. However, sometime in June, things started falling apart. “[Amazon] didn’t communicate very fully. They had the orders, they received the orders, but it looked like the orders were kind of stuck. If you tried to check the information, they would not yet be getting prepared for shipping,” she said.
Anecdotally, The Times has heard from customers told by workers for UPS that some of the delay was due to a contract dispute between Amazon and UPS that has since been resolved, though The Times was unable to confirm that.
“Eventually, Amazon would say, ‘Sorry, we lost your order, do you want a refund?’ It was just unreliable. This was through June, and on right into this month,” she said. “I would get an announcement from Amazon saying, ‘Good news, your item is here,’ however, it would not be here. It would not be on my porch, and it would not be at my Post Office. Amazon would say, ‘Sorry, we really tried to deliver your order, but we absolutely couldn’t because we don’t know where you are,’ which is pretty funny because they had been delivering reliably up until this point.”
Anne Tallon, a seasonal resident of Edgartown and an Amazon customer, spoke about similar experiences with Amazon and UPS over the past few weeks. She, like other Island residents, does not have mail delivery to her house, and has historically relied on Amazon and UPS to get items delivered directly to her doorstep.
“I bought paper towels, hand soap, and laundry detergent on Amazon about a month ago. Amazon sent this stuff to the Post Office. With Amazon, I have never had things delivered to the Post Office before. I’ve always had things sent by UPS and brought to my house,” said Tallon. “When I go into my Amazon account, it says delivered via USPS, but then if you track the package, Amazon indicates that my package has been marked ‘undeliverable,’ for an undetermined reason.”
Tallon does not know whether her Amazon packages ever made it to the Post Office. She said that this experience has made her reconsider her patronage of Amazon.
“Maybe this was just the push I needed,” said Tallon. “If Amazon doesn’t even provide the convenience that it purports, then there isn’t a point. I should probably be shopping local anyway.”
Tallon has also had similar mix-ups with other delivery services. “I placed an order on Etsy on June 28, which was shipped on June 30. Only July 8, the seller sent me an email saying there had been a problem with my package delivery,” said Tallon. “The seller told me that he had received word that my package was available for pickup at your local Post Office. I thought that Etsy usually used UPS, so I had not expected the package to go to the Post Office.”
When she went to the Post Office, her package was nowhere to be found: “I did go to pick it up, probably on the 30th of June, and had my tracking number. I was told at the Edgartown Post Office that they were running at least a week behind in sorting, so while it very well might be there, they couldn’t find it. I then went back a second time, a week later, and they still couldn’t find it. I don’t know where it stands now.”
One patron of the Vineyard Haven Post Office, who also chose to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, wrote to The Times after experiencing issues with three separate packages. According to online tracking, a package he ordered was in a Providence, R.I., facility on July 10. As of July 23, he had still not received it.
The problems continued with a second package, when online tracking information displayed the message “Delivery attempted, action needed.” The man then visited the Post Office on July 11, where an employee told him these messages were automatically generated, and that the Post Office had received his package, but hadn’t yet scanned it in.
As of July 23, the man had not yet received his package.
He also described a Post Office experience in which he did receive one package in a relatively timely manner, but the parcel was destroyed.
“When it was handed to me over the counter, it had an eight-inch by two- or three-inch tear in the cardboard,” he said. According to the man, the Post Office employee at the window made no comment regarding the damage.
Customers report the addition of two more pickup windows seems to have made a positive impact at the Vineyard Haven Post Office. Wait times in line have been shorter with three windows open, rather than one.
“Today there was a great atmosphere and mood between customers and customer service reps,” the Vineyard Haven man said, suggesting that the additional help has perhaps relieved some stress.
Like Seidman, this man pointed to the Post Office’s process as the primary issue, rather than its workers. “I’ve seen those cases of packages back there in the parking lot, and it’s not like they can go digging through every case when a customer arrives. I know they have a process they have to follow, but it’s still kind of … annoying at this point,” he said.
Susan Desmarais, a resident of Oak Bluffs, described how a July 27 experience at the Vineyard Haven Post Office has led her to reconsider her relationship to Amazon and consumption in general.
“I went over around 3:30 or 4. I’m waiting for some medication in the mail,” Desmarais said. “They have some spots where you can wait inside, and the overflow is supposed to go outside. There was one spot left inside within the marked area. Everybody there was in masks and socially distanced.”
Desmarais was told by a woman working at the Post Office that the line must move outside, despite it fitting within the distanced parameters marked by cones within the inside of the Post Office.
“She said, ‘All of you, get outside, and wait out there. The line is outside,’” said Desmarais. “There were a couple of people in line who were elders. This woman’s tone of voice was very denigrating, and she was just awful. I thought to myself, ‘This is one of the hottest days of the year.’ There was no reason for us to have to go outside.”
“I feel like this situation with the Post Office, part of it is COVID-driven, part of it is driven by a decision Amazon made to ship packages through the Post Office, rather than keep their contracts with FedEx and UPS going,” said Desmarais. “I know there are people who work for the Post Office who are good, hard-working people, who are doing their best, and are stretched to the limit. I totally get that.”
Apart from this unpleasant encounter, Desmarais has also had spotty Amazon service over the past few weeks.
“The package that I need has been sitting at the Post Office for close to two weeks,” she said. “It’s been listed as delivered. When I got home yesterday, I called my insurance company and said, ‘You’ve got to figure something out, because I’m almost out of medication.’”
While Amazon has made some things more affordable, there are lessons to be learned, Desmarais said.
“We were all talking about it in line at the Post Office yesterday. All of us were saying that one of the things we’ve learned through this COVID thing is that we would rather pay more and give up other things and support businesses that have supported this community through the pandemic,” said Desmarais. “I look at the Pacheco family at Reliable [Market] and Steve Bernier at Cronig’s. Both of those places, those people are being pushed to their max to work, and they’re not being rude and nasty to people. They’re doing their jobs, they’re respectful, they’re nice, and they’re working hard for this community. I’m just going to buy all my stuff there. I’m done getting anything off-Island.”
Post Office sets weekend hours
In response to the summer demand, the U.S. Postal Service has added the following weekend hours at Island Post Offices for package pickup.
Vineyard Haven: Dutch-door service, Saturday, 7 am–5 pm; Sunday, 8 am–12 noon
Edgartown: Saturday 7 am–1 pm; Sunday 8 am–12 noon
Oak Bluffs: Saturday 12 noon–4 pm
West Tisbury: Saturday 12 noon–4 pm
Chilmark: Saturday 12 noon–3 pm