Thursday, October 30, 2008


I've always liked DHL. They've always been great when it comes to delivering stuff in a hurry to odd places all over the world, even when being shot at. When I needed a domestic courier for overnight packages, I went with DHL because I was already using them for import and export shipping, and because I could get really good prices on prepaid shippers through Costco.

Lately, though, I'm having second thoughts. For quite a while I used their overnight services with no major problems - the worst was a rural delivery that got lost for a few days. When they moved the cutoff time for shipments from 4:45 to 3:45 it was tolerable, if annoying. But several weeks ago, I discovered that two days after dropping off a couple of urgent packages at the local depot well before the cutoff, they hadn't even been removed from the drop box in front of the depot!

Apparently something like half of their drivers just walked off the job. After pleading with the woman at the desk for about 10 minutes, I finally got her to give the packages back, since they weren't going to make it out that night and one of them absolutely had to be delivered the next day. I had to carry that one over to UPS myself and pay about $50 for UPS Red next-day shipping. Fortunately UPS has a much later cutoff time.

I never got my money back on the wasted prepaid shippers. They've never made good on any delivery guarantee, for that matter. I've filed a couple of claims and never got a thing out of it.

The worst was last week when I got a call from a customer who'd ordered a part to be delivered to their hotel room while they were briefly in the country on business. It hadn't shown up on time, and when I called DHL to inquire about it, I was told that since it was outside of a major metropolitan area they couldn't provide next-day service. Ok, I thought, two days should still be plenty. Nope - turns out that they don't even try, they just hand it over to the post office. Estimated delivery time on this 'overnight' package? Eight days! For under $5 I could have handed it to the post office myself and had it there in two days.

Turns out DHL is scaling back their US operations. I'm sorry to lose what was, for a while, a very attractive shipping option. I shipped a lot of stuff crammed into reasonably priced flat-rate mailers. Guess I'll have to work on some UPS or FedEx options.

I think it's worth mentioning that the USPS does an awesome job about 99.6% of the time. Even after all of the rate increases, you can still get a 1 lb package coast to coast in about two days for around $5, even to remote rural addresses. I've shipped thousands of pacakges by first class and priority mail, and they've lost or seriously delayed maybe half a dozen. The local clerks deserve some credit, too. Mario, Dave, Esther, Lynn - you guys are great. Edgar - you're new, so I'll cut you some slack.


James said...

But you'll never get your money back with USPS!

I periodically use USPS Global Express mail. I use for all of my preparations. A few years back I sent a computer monitor size box to London. Filled in all of the information in, including dimensions and weight. Something like $470 postage. Dropped the box at the post office. Next day it comes back to me for being a few inches over size.

Despite making you enter dimensions, neither or the USPS Click-N-Ship website will tell you that your package is oversize. Yes, I could look up the regulations, but I kinda figured that was the point of the software asking me dimensions.

So the package is oversize, and I'm sure as heck not going to repack it, and it needs to be there ASAP. So I spend $600 and DHL it to London. Then I file, the same day, for a refund on the unused postage.

The USPS wouldn't refund the postage. They said because they returned it to me, they had fulfilled their service obligation and were keeping the $470. What I determined is that if the bar code gets scanned, you aren't getting your money back. The box moved a total of 1.5 miles in the hands of the postal service and they took $470 for it.

Being newly in business, I didn't had $470 to blow on that. So I spent a bunch of time complaining and trying to get my money back. It turns out that the only avenue of complaint is through the USPS consumer advocate office. And they won't take action on individual cases. They just look for trends.

So my $470 disappeared. I now know that I never get my money back from the USPS and consider that when making shipping decisions.


N1VG said...

That's a bummer. Can't say I've had that happen, but I'm more often sending really heavy stuff than big stuff. Occasionally they'll bounce an APO/FPO package because I forgot to put a customs form on it (Endicia doesn't seem to give you the option, even though it's required, so you need a separate form) but I've always been able to just drop it in the mail again.

It used to be that getting a refund for a misprinted label was a pain - there was a significant fee involved, something like $30. Now I can void a printed label instantly, though the actual refund takes a few weeks.

In your case, I'm fairly sure they'd have allowed you to reuse the postage if you'd been able to put it on a smaller box. But if you couldn't do that... then I'm not sure what the regs are.

I will say that I will never again use Global Express Mail Guaranteed. That's where they hand it off to FedEx at some point for overseas delivery. When something goes wrong, tracking down who's responsible for it is damn near impossible. On the plus side, the system seems to be so screwed up that when I recalled a package and was informed that I'd be billed for return shipping, they never actually managed to bill me for it.