Acceptable margin of error for the USPS?

Winthin the past 12 months, the company I work for has lost (that we know about) about 60 packages in the mail, mostly software that we mailed to our clients. On average, we mail about 5-8 packages a week.

We’ve consulted the local post master about this. We usually use the blue drop box in the PO parking lot, we have one of those screwy postage meter machines, we use pre-printed labels on all packages. The intended recipients live anywhere from 15 miles away to Florida and Texas (we’re in New York). The post master claims that since there isn’t any pattern in the intended destinations, then he can’t do anything about it. Helpfully, he did suggest tracking each piece of mail we send, which is an extra .50 surcharge. :rolleyes:

So, what loss rate is SOP for the USPS? Rough estimate, let’s say we sent 400 packages in the last twelve months (although I think that’s on the high side). If 60 of those packages got lost in transit, then we lost 15% of our outgoing mail - stuff like upgrade CDs, purchase proposals, and information mailings, things that make us look pretty suspect if they don’t show up when they’re supposed to.

Should we be complaining more vocally, or accept it as normal and find another way to get our goods out the door? Lord knows I’m the first one to fight Evil Corporations over shoddy service, but I don’t know squat about what I should realistically be expecting from the post office.

Disclaimer: I do not work for the USPS, I am in no way an authority, but I have been married to a letter carrier for 20 years.

Just off the top of my head, there is no “acceptable” loss rate, and furthermore, what I think is that you’re looking at systematic theft at some point in the mail-sorting proceedings, not at “loss”. Your packages look obviously like “software”, yes?

Uh huh. :rolleyes:

What I would do is get in touch with the USPS Postal Inspection Service, who function as the post office cops. They’re the ones who handle mail theft. They carry guns. They’re serious. They actually put people in jail, they don’t just futz around.

Go here.

P.S. This procedure completely bypasses the local postmaster; he has no control over the Postal Inspectors.

Yup. Blow the whistle.


“Good service”. They’re normally quite efficient at getting things delivered–I mail videotapes to my mom and never have any trouble with

[quote unquote]
“losing” them.

But the Post Office will tell you, “Don’t mail cash in birthday cards”, and there’s a reason for it. They can’t do much about the human factor. It sounds like you’re doing everything right on the technical end–labels, packaging, etc.–so it’s probably not a technical glitch.

Because of the long-term repeat pattern, my money’s on some light-fingered mail handler at your local mail sorting facility. It does happen. :frowning:

Thanks for the info, Duck Duck Goose. I thought something might be fishy.

If, as it seems, someone is rifling through our packages in the hopes of scoring some free software, good luck to 'em. We’re a small company and our niche is…funeral home management software :smiley: . Unless they want to print over 150 different prayer cards, create a general price list itemizing their casket charges, and run reports on their preneed accounts, they’re up the proverbial creek.

Actually, the thought makes me laugh aloud.

We try to be as non-descript as possible with our packaging - mailing label, brown manilla envelope. (So, that would be a “no”.) No AOL CD cases plastered with advertising. And its not like they’re getting any money, as mentioned, its all paperwork and pretty useless software (if you’re not a funeral director).

However what really toasted my omlette was losing two personal checks in the mail a few weeks ago - one for my phone bill and the other for our garbage pickup. The checks still haven’t turned up and its not worth it to cancel them. That’s the kicker that’s convincing me to call the local postal inspector tomorrow.

The part that gets me is “there isn’t any pattern in the intended destinations, then he can’t do anything about it.” Umm, so the problem clearly lies at his PO. Which means, of course, that it is precisely his area of concern.

I strongly suspect that this postmaster is getting a lot of complaints about “lost” mail and is just trying to avoid dealing with the obvious problem. The reply is ridiculous.

I suspected the same. Of course, logically, it makes sense. But then again, what do I know about the post office and its mysterious, governmental ways? I mentioned this exact thing to the lady that called back about my most recent complaint, and her response was essentially “Well, your stuff isn’t laying around here, so it must have happened after it left this building, which means it happened at any number of different processing plants, and its impossible to determine which ones because there’s no pattern to the destinations of the missing mail.” Uh-huh, suuure lady - but I don’t like flying off the handle unless I absolutely know what I was talking about.

Which is why I ask about this stuff on the SDMB :cool:

I apologize to all the hundreds of thousands of excellent postal employees, but…

I first had serious problems with lost outgoing mail in the late 70s. A lot of people told me I was nuts, because they never had any problems. It didn’t matter if I mailed it for an office building, the school, a drop box or the post office itself. Finally, my postmaster baldly told me that if I’d really lost that many letters, I’d singlehandedly be a big chunk of all the letters lost nationally.

Technically he was right: the official annual loss figure at the time were ludicrously low (believe it or not, it was in the thousands, not millions), and demonstrably false (The papers often have articles some postman’s garage or anonymous dump site with tens of thousands of undelivered letters. They scattered randomly around the nation, but any one of them would be a huge chunk of the annual loss rate they claimed. Together, they probably exceeded the amount the USPS admitted. Worst of all, they were always discovered by accident – how could postal inspectors not pin down tens of thousands of letters mising from one route or post office?)

Fortunately, I eventually figured out that mail sent from two neighboring town not only never got lost, but arrived at least one full day sooner. I’ve seen it time and again in the past 30 years, both with myself and friends: some Post Offices are simply bad. They’re not the rule, but something in the culture or policies of the USPS seems to concentrate bad employees in certain locations or convert good to bad. I’ve seen this in private corporations and academic departments, too

Whenever anyone I know has problems in a given location, I complain loudly and persistently (I must be on their troublemaker list by now) – but please don’t wait for them to fix it. Immediately start taking all your mail to a neighboring town (find out which neighboring towns are central sorting stations, regional hubs, etc. – you’ll get better and faser service all around) It’s a minor inconvenience, and you’ll forget all about it once it becomes your standard practice

Life is too short. This problem is in your power to fix without waiting for the Inspectors “efficient resolution”. Otherwise you’ll just drive yourself nuts.

At your volume, you may want to contact one of the big private shipping companies that provide you with a tracking number and will most likely do something with your lost packages. Your volume should get you a discount and the price may be comparable with USPS. You also get tracking numbers and some insurance included in your fees.

And generally an account rep whose gunning for a promotion that will do anything in their power so you don’t call their boss and say they’re slack. I think I’ve ruined careers when I called to complain about bad service.

15% lost mail is abysmal. I’m not sure about USPS but Australian Post regularly boasts about it’s 99%+ successful delivery rate.

Thanks to all for the advice and information. I contacted the postal inspector in NYC per Duck’s link, who the directed me to the local consumer affairs office. I called them and explained my case to the nice lady.

She’s sending me paperwork so we can detail the last few cases of missing mail. Apparently the local post master was supposed to have offered me this option a long time ago when we first complained :wally

She didn’t sound too encouraging about our case either, until I rose up with righteous (but still polite) indignation and told her that a 15% failure rate is UNACCEPTABLE - grrrr! That changed her tone a bit.

Well, its going to be an involved process, but hopefully we’ll be able to start using our PO again with confidence after this is all said and done.

I agree that the loss rate is unacceptable, but wanted to suggest that you look into some sort of address verification software. We do use software at my organization that corrects zip codes, but doesn’t check for things like address standardization.

When I get returned mail, I normally enter some portion of the address (whatever I think is most correct) into the following site: . I frequently discover mistakes (made either by data entry or our customers) on things like the street name or zip code.

Just out of curiousity, how would they know? Unless you’re sending a thick wad of bills, a birthday card with a $20 inside should be indistinguishable from a birthday card without, n’est pas?

I’ve had problems with missing mail, but it was strictly with stuff sent to mainland China. Several times my recipients have received packages that were obviously torn open, rifled through, and hastily taped back together…

Probably just to avoid unsavory workers who skim cards out of the mail and dispose of them after they’ve been checked. That way you’re only out a card, instead of out a card plus cash.

My husband is a USPS letter carrier, and I’ve talked to many a postal worker in both clerk and carrier jobs. The Postal Inspectors don’t screw around - they will occasionally tail carriers on their routes, they set up “stings” like leaving a wad of cash in a bin of mail (apparently any other response to seeing the cash other than leaving it alone and immediately telling a supervisor - including picking up the cash - will get the worker busted), and so forth. Even taking junk mail that cannot be delivered (no such address, etc.) will get a carrier in trouble.

Considering that you’ve got a 15% failure rate, I’d be willing to bet it’s either the post office near you, or your area’s distribution center that’s screwing it up. Mail goes through a lot of hands on its way to a destination, and so that offers a lot of opportunities for workers to steal stuff. Once they open something and figure out “damn, that’s not a porn DVD, it’s some funeral home software”, you can bet it won’t go back in the mailer with a “machine damaged your mail during sorting” sealed bag around the whole thing. It’ll get tossed out.

Well, there is a huge black market for this sort of thing in Finland.


What she said. The mail handlers cruising for birthday money simply open anything that looks like a birthday card, just on the off-chance there might be cash inside.

Postal worker checking in here (Australia Post, but our systems are very similar to the USPS). Your loss rates are completely unacceptable.

As DDG and others have pointed out, you are the victim of systematic theft. There can be no other explanation for a 15% loss rate, when a single thing going missing in the mail is something many people can go a lifetime without having happen to them.

In the case of small letters, we operate OCR and barcoding machines that run at about 38 000 - 40 000 articles per hour. Over the course of this hour, that machine will probably mangle one to three pieces of mail which have gotten caught in the works (usually because they cointained coins, a pen, or something that should have been in a parcel). Of these damaged articles, 90%+ would not be damaged to the point where the address is illegible. These get forwarded in an official postal envelope with a letter of apology (not an ideal outcome for the customer, but it doesn’t count as “missing” or “lost in the mail”). Sometimes letters, being small, will get left behind in a mail bag when it is opened, that mail bag gets put on the bottom of the pile, and not used for a year… That sort of thing. Again, it’s very rare, but it happens.

But in your case, you are talking about parcels (you’re not putting CDs in standard envelopes, are you?). These should have an even lower loss rate because they are bigger, and harder to lose down behind a machine or wherever. They are also not subject to the same type of machine processing. If your parcel goes missing, it’ll be your mailman stealing it.

It is most likely your local mail carrier, and not a postal worker along the way who is the culprit. Almost definitely, in fact. Sorters aren’t inherently more honest than mailmen, but they do tend to have surveillance cameras watching their every move, and will be questioned if they so much as fart. Mailmen work alone. Sorters work in high security federal buildings, mailmen are by themselves in vehicles or walking on the street. All this of course, is assuming that your mailman picks the stuff up (one difference in our countries’ systems - ours only deliver).

Complain. Complain, complain, COMPLAIN. Make your local post office your first port of call. Don’t get fobbed off onto some customer hotline or anything like that. Talk to your Post Master. If that doesn’t get a result, go higher. But in this case, you need to kick some arse locally, because that’s definitely where the problem is. Yes there are dishonest people in every industry, but they are relatively few, and you aren’t likely to have postal employees in multiple states stealing your things. The problem is the local New York guy.

Good suggestions, all of them. I’ve been mailing list manager for several places I’ve worked, and I second the address verification suggestion – you’d be surprised the proportion of intelligent people who manage to make mistakes providing you with their own address!

And I picked up a new euphemism: a “preneed account” to a funeral home is someone who is still alive! :slight_smile:

I have a friend who was arrested in a Postal Police sting a few years ago. Those guys are sneaky. He was arrested, and stealing mail is a federal offense.

From the OP:

So it’s not the mailman. :wink: He doesn’t pick the stuff up–they put it in the drop box, and someone doing “collections” comes around twice a day and empties it into a big truck, and takes it inside, from whence it goes to the mail sorters. The mailman never even sees it.

Actually, my understanding of U.S. mail sorting facilities is that they’re basically automated chaos, with nobody much caring what goes on.

And I actually am not aware that the USPS carries out video surveillance of any employees, although as always I welcome enlightenment. It seems like I’d have heard the NALC screaming about it, and I haven’t.

And actually, it’s fairly easy to beat a video camera–you just turn away as you snarf the small package under your shirt.

And actually, it’s less likely to be the local mail carrier–FTR–because he knows that if mail starts disappearing, he’s going to be the first place the Postal Inspectors will look.

Fair enough. I am basing this on a different postal administration. Where I work is kind of chaotic too, but rest assured, in some areas there are no fewer than FIFTEEN “black dome” ceiling mounted cameras which can see me. Whatever the guy is called who does the pick-up, I still kinda suspect he’d have more opportunity to rifle through the stuff than would a person in a busy building with cow-orkers (first time I’ve had a chance to say that! :D) on either side. either way, it’s not just getting lost.

Well, the guy who does the pickup (“collections”) basically just absent-mindedly mooches out to the drop box in the parking lot, opens it, shoves the whole mess into the back of a truck, and trundles it all back to the main Post Office building. He doesn’t stand there and go through it one piece at a time, he’s not being paid to do that. And rest assured there’s a supervisor back in the building who knows to the minute exactly how long it ought to take Chummy to get his butt out to the parking lot and shove a load of mail into the back of a truck and hump it around back to the loading dock.

So there’s no time for him to rifle through it.

Naw, it’s someone at the mail sorting facility. Big warehouse-type building, conveyor belts, mail carts all over the place, organized chaos, plenty of opportunity for someone in the sorting process to look over what’s coming down and check it out.