The UPS and downs of mail ordering (written in 2003)

 My supplier of electronic components changed their carriers not too long ago, choosing UPS as the replacement. Usually their lorry arrives around 8:30 to 9am on the day following my order and all is well. My promises to customers are kept and everyone is happy.

Recently I've found that if I place an order on a Thursday, just occasionally the delivery skips a day (and being a weekend following the day the parcel didn't arrive, I have to wait for Monday). Sometimes, if the package is less than a certain weight, it'll be sent Royal Mail and invariably arrives next day, when the postman calls, usually 10am give or take an hour, depending on the particular day.

(That was in 2003. In 2013 The postman now calls between 12:30 and 2:30. This is a slippage of 21 minutes per annum)

On Wednesday last, just in case a day was lost, I ordered a ginormous aerial for a chap that wanted to receive terrestrial digital before the weekend. His signals were low on the low channels and much too low on the high channels. Because our local group of analogue stations is 21-31 most aerials round here are coded with a green end cap signifying that it's cut for the low end of the band and not therefore going to work too well on channel 52, the multiplex carrying ITV and Channel 4.

On Thursday I rose bright and early and waited for the familiar diesel lorry noises but nothing!

A bit later the phone rang. "Where's my aerial?", the caller asked.

"It didn't come today, maybe tomorrow", I replied.

That day a second customer arrived at the door. "I bought that Pace digi-box like you suggested when those awful messages from Sky wouldn't go away", he said, "but how do I plug it in?"

"Read the instructions", I said, "I can't help I'm too busy".

Later that day he called again. I plodded over the road and checked the signal strengths provided on one of the installation screens.

That's why you can't get ITV and Channel 4, your signal's too weak. You need a new aerial.

"How much will that be", his better half piped up.

"£25, or more for a better one", I replied.

£25's dear enough... where can I get one?

I said, "not in the local shops... I'll better order one".

When will it come?

Tomorrow or Monday.

Monday's a bank holiday.

Oh.. in that case it may be Tuesday then.

I got back to the workshop and promptly placed an order and the aerial arrived the next day (Friday) at 8:30am.
The driver had pulled up by the gate and was fishing out a package about eight feet long from inside his van.

I said, "there should be more than one parcel". "Yes there's two", he said and fished out another slightly smaller package about five feet long. "In that case there should be three", I said. "No there's only two", he replied after rummaging around in the van.

I unpacked them on the front lawn. The big package contained an aerial over two metres long and about 80 feet of those plastic bags filled with air. I felt like a conjurer, pulling out this seemingly endless string of plastic bags all joined together.

Where's the paperwork?

At the bottom of the box there was nothing. I looked for a hole but the box was pretty well sealed. I looked for an invoice but there wasn't one so I tore off the UPS label with the tracking number and put it in my pocket.

Next I tackled the smaller box. Inside this one was a second aerial and about fifty feet of screwed up brown wrapping paper and mixed up with this was a screwed up invoice and various small plastic bags with components in them and right at the bottom was a small audio part rolling around. I counted the items then carefully disentangled the brown paper but no sign of a small round jack plug.

I climbed into the box and found a large hole in the bottom. There often is a hole in the bottom of CPC's boxes and quite often small items fall out en-route. Sometimes they place small items in a plastic bag but not always.

I waited for the postman.... but he didn't bring a parcel.

I rang the supplier, "first", I said, "there's an item missing from Thursday's order". "We'll send another one today", the young lady piped up. "Second, I got an eight foot long box with an aerial in it and no invoice". "What's the invoice number?" she inquired. "I don't know. There wasn't one", I said again. "Wait while I look on the screen", she said. "How many boxes did you get?" "One box for that order", I said. "Well two boxes were sent". "Did one go by Royal Mail?" I asked. "No they both went by UPS".

I looked at the label I'd removed. Where it had a space for the number of parcels in the consignment no-one had bothered to enter any information.

"Do you want the tracking numbers so you can find out where the missing parcel is?" she asked. "It'll be easier for you to ring". As my time is only worth twopence an hour I agreed and she gave me the phone number and the tracking numbers. "I can verify that I received one of those", I said, "I'm looking at the number on the label". "Right it's the other one you need to track down", she said and rang off.

I called UPS. A recording told me to "press 9" which I dutifully did. The voice continued with a string of instructions and I eventually pressed "zero" and got through to a chap who said that the delivery would probably be made later as it was likely to be a different van for a smaller parcel.

Satisfied I rang off and waited......

At 4pm I rang again and followed the same procedure of pushing buttons. "I'll call you back", the chap said, after saying that I should have received the parcel on Thursday.

Later the phone rang. "Your parcel's in Farnborough".

"That's a long way", I said, "I need it in Thorney Hill".

"The best I can do is to get it to you early tomorrow. That's Saturday", the chap said. "And it WILL be early", he stressed.

So on Saturday morning, bright and early at 7:30am I got up and waited for the familiar diesel lorry noises. 8am… 9am… 10am… no lorry.

I rang UPS.

Where's my parcel?

It's a bit early to worry.

"I've been waiting since Thursday", I responded, "AND I got up very early at 7:30 because your chap said the van would be here VERY early".

"It's definitely on its way", he said.

At 10:15am I had to go out and see a customer. My daughter was left in charge. "Don't go out!", I said, "I'm expecting a parcel".

I got back at 12:30.

Where's my parcel?

A man rang and said he was lost but his phone cut out and he didn't ring back. The parcel hasn't come yet.

I rang UPS.

"It's a little early to worry", the chap said, "he could come by 3:30pm".

"I've been waiting since Thursday", I said glumly and hung up.

I waited.

Nobody came.

I rang UPS.

Nobody's here. Our working hours are…..

Lucky them, I thought, I'm still working.

The recorded voice continued…"Try our website at"

I found their website and typed in my tracking number.

There, appearing on the screen, was a history of my parcel.

What's this!!! "Receiver requested a postponement of delivery till Friday and the van driver didn't get instructions for finding our address!!"

Cheek! I certainly didn't ask for a delay to my parcel.

Is this some sort of get-out to help their performance targets?

"Didn't get instructions for finding our address"...I get loads of deliveries from them.. maybe it's a new delivery driver?. but with no map?.. is this cost cutting or poor management? He did try to ring once... maybe his phone battery was flat from always getting lost or more likely he just couldn't be bothered and chucked my parcel to the back of his van?

I looked for the "contact us" on the web page and carefully constructed a letter of complaint.

Next I'll be told, "you don't have a contract with us and its up to CPC to claim for late delivery". Fat chance of that. Anyway, I'm reliably informed that CPC are my agent and I do have a contract AND a valid claim for damages! After all it was a guaranteed 24 hour delivery and by my reckoning Tuesday makes 6 days.

I suppose I'll have to get up early on Tuesday as well now. I would have had to anyway because I placed another order today (Saturday) and that was promised for Tuesday so there'll be two parcels coming then… or will there?

I got up early again on Tuesday but at the usual time there were no noises from a UPS diesel lorry so I checked on the website. This still showed that the van driver had got lost. Is my parcel scheduled for delivery today?

I rang the 0845 number.

"All our representatives are busy".

I waited, listening to annoying music while my money was being eaten by BT. Then there was a loud voice "Goodbye", it said and there was more music. Does that mean I'm now listening to BT's music or UPS's music for some considerable cost... and not likely to get to talk to anyone?

I hung up and tried later. I got the same results. Presumably everyone is calling wondering why they haven't had their parcels. A thought crossed my mind... maybe the Saturday drivers are really Parcel Force drivers sent in to cause mayhem to UPS deliveries?

The saga continues......

It is now 9:30am Tuesday and while I was on the phone for a third time, finally having got through to a young lady who remarked that she couldn't really do much as the computer hadn't been updated since Saturday, there was the roar of a diesel lorry pulling up at the gate. A chap emerged carrying a parcel smothered in red tape with the words "Saturday Delivery" all over it. I said it wasn't Saturday but he didn't seem to mind and handed me the box.

I looked at it. Why did the driver need instructions? My address was written in full on a piece of paper stuck on the top. The lines had been highlighted in fluorescent pen... and what was this stuck to the side of the box? It was a map, in great detail... actually showing my house, with local roads clearly marked. Odd.. clearly the chap at the depot knew that the driver wouldn't know Thorney Hill and had done his utmost to help. With all this information, and a mobile phone, the driver still could not find me. Why?

The parcel contained three lots of parts needed for three separate jobs and now those could proceed.

Is that the end of the story? No... not by a long way.

On Friday, a customer had popped in to order a battery for his golf trolley. I picked a suitable item from the catalogue and then selected a number of other parts I didn't really want that much to make up the minimum order value that gives me free carriage. As it was a Bank Holiday on the Monday I decided to wait until Saturday morning to place the order. That would give me a chance to look at the "special offers" sheet that the postman always delivers on Saturday morning. As luck would have it the battery was not there so I placed the order without a 5% saving.... "It'll be posted today and you should get it on Tuesday", the lady at CPC told me.

So on Tuesday I had been handed, not one parcel but two. The one wrapped in red tape and a second containing the heavy battery. But what's this... the second package seemed remarkably light to be carrying a lead-acid battery? I asked the driver to wait a moment while I looked inside. The bottom of the box was plastered in brown tape, which didn't seem normal. Inside there were the small items I hadn't really needed but no battery! I looked at the enclosed invoice... one battery, lead-acid.. it was supposed to be included but wasn't. I asked the UPS chap to look in the back of his van but no sign of a battery!

Strange... no battery but all the small items were there. How could a heavy battery fall out the bottom of the box leaving the other items in place?

I rang CPC.

Where's my battery.. it isn't in the box?

It should be.

Well it's not so will you send me another?

"Certainly", was the response, "but you must send a FAX to say it didn't arrive."

"I haven't got FAX", I said.

"An e-mail will do then", she said... "address it to..."


Because the item is more than £10 we need to have the information in writing.

More wasted time! I didn't have CPC's e-mail address so I logged onto their website and hunted around for it. I then wrote a little note about the missing battery and sent it off.

Later that day (Tuesday) I phoned to ask if my battery was on its way.

There's nothing on the computer, call back later.

When do you recommend?.

Try 4:30pm, it should be in the system by then.

I rang again at 4:30pm (wasting yet more time)

Where's my battery, . is it on the way to Thorney Hill?

No it's not... first the note has to go to "Complaints", then they have to authorise a replacement.

When will I get my battery? The customer keeps asking where it is.

You should get it the day after tomorrow.

That's unacceptable, I'll have been waiting 6 days, let me talk to your supervisor.

After listening to some music and wasting another ten miniutes I was told that the battery would be sent that very afternoon and sent "guaranteed to be received before noon the next day". "That's fine", I said and thought to myself that at least one person cared.

Next morning (Wednesday) dragged on until, at 1pm, I rang CPC.

Where's my battery, it was guaranteed to be delivered by noon today?

Let me see. Oh yes your battery was sent alright but no mention of guaranteed delivery.

How has it been sent then?

"Lets see"... lots of key clicking... "by Royal Mail... First Class".

Are you sure, the last lady said it would be sent by UPS... guaranteed to be received before noon?

Yes it went by ordinary post.

I groaned. It didn't arrive by ordinary post.

"I'll send you another", was the retort... "guaranteed to be received before noon tomorrow".

"No thanks", I said, "I don't want the hassle of sending one back. That means hanging around waiting for the driver to pick it up... I'll wait".

The next day (Thursday) dawned. A diesel lorry pulled up outside. Maybe Royal Mail have been inundated with parcels and hired a UPS lorry? But no a UPS driver climbed out and handed me a parcel. It was a heavy parcel and inside was an invoice that had written across the top "SEND BY PARCEL FORCE". Well it hadn't, but at least it had arrived safe and sound. I looked at the date on the invoice. Sure enough it had been sent on Tuesday but it had taken two days instead of the usual one!

The postman has just been and thankfully he didn't bring a second battery!

You just can't get the staff these days!

I wonder if RS Components, Willow Vale or Wiltsgrove can do better?

Post Script

To be honest I can't remember any of the above as it's now 2013 and 10 years have passed.

Are things any better after 10 years?

Well Farnell and CPC now allow one to place orders on-line and sometimes, if UPS are used, a tracking number is provided.

UPS is a bit like the Curate's Egg. Good in parts.

Deliveries go astray still, and various excuses are to be found in their tracking information.

Basically, I'm informed by a nice lady at the local depot that they can't get decent staff.

Delivery drivers tell me that they're expected to deliver loads more stuff in the same timescale.

Something like getting a quart into a pint pot I imagine?

Anyway quite often my parcel ends up "left at a UPS facility".

Other excuses: "no-one at home", but no failed delivery note; "can't find the address", despite the fact I get at least two deliveries per week; "driver had to attend hospital appointment", "driver packed in the job after delivering half his parcels" and "parcel put on wrong lorry", from the nice lady at the local depot.


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