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Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas

Send early, arm yourself against mishaps

      How’s your gift-getting going? With speed as well as inspiration, I hope. Speed is especially important if, instead of delivering your gifts by hand, you’ll be depending on Santa’s helpers to get them to the right destinations at the right time. For while Santa himself is utterly reliable, his corporate surrogates are not. That’s a hard truth I’ve learned again and again.
     The stories are funny — in retrospect. 
     Bill and I can laugh about the buffalo jerky that, we tell ourselves, must have been a tasty treat for hungry postal workers somewhere between Montana, Missouri and Maryland. We’ve made a legend out of that USPS mishap, as well as — once upon a time — a good New Bay Times story. 
     It went something like this. When the son to whom we’d sent the jerky claimed no package, and no knowledge, we started trying to track it. What we got for our trouble was the mutilated original envelope resealed in plastic, along with the boiler-plate disclaimer that the package had been damaged in handling. For its contents, the postal service took no responsibility. Where the jerky went we never knew.
      The postal service advised we take our problem back to the Montana butcher who sold the jerky. His problem, I learned, was worse than ours. His operation had burned down. Our jerky-loving son never tasted that purchase, but a kind reader hand-delivered her homemade jerky to us for him.
      That was about Christmas time, and he was coming home, so we skipped the mail.
      Thereafter I switched my package handling from the USPS to UPS and FedEx.
      Now I know that even a “global logistics company,” as United Parcel Service calls itself, can’t handle every delivery.
      Our Christmas delivery to that same son’s daughter simply, absolutely had to get to St. Louis on time. The big, bulky package contained 12 days of Christmas ­presents, one for each day through December 25.
       We knew we were cutting it short, so we were willing to pay for certainty. Second-day air delivery meant the 8.5-pound package would cost $69.07 — plus $16 since the second day was Saturday. We choked — and paid, imagining delighting Ada, who is a girl hard to please.
       Checking UPS My Choice on Friday, I discovered that a “routing error” meant the $87.77 package would not be delivered until Tuesday.
      In the storm of phone calls that ensued, reaching as far as the Philippines, I learned that the customer is always wrong.
       Despite the clear evidence of my Staples receipt, UPS insisted my package label specified no special handling. UPS took no responsibility. The problem — if one existed — was between Staples and me. I could ask for a refund. But I couldn’t get my package delivered on time.
      It was, I was told on the sixth or seventh call, “loaded on a trailer in the UPS hub in Pennsylvania.” Since I made such an apoplectic fuss, a supervisor finally told me on Sunday, “we’re going to try to deliver it on Monday.”
     It apparently was delivered, to a house a block away, with a different street name and number. By Wednesday, the confused neighbor figured out what to do with a surprise package that wasn’t his. Ada’s 12 days of Christmas stretched into the new year.
      Maybe I have exceptionally bad luck with delivery services. Last Christmas, both UPS and FedEx claimed on-time rates in the “high 90 percentages” for packages shipped by air. By ground, UPS claimed 99.1 percent on-time delivery.
       Am I really the outlier? In our new age of long-distance shopping and shipping, opportunities for mishaps abound. You can’t avoid them. But a couple of principles might help.
     Avoid licensees, like Staples; take your packages to a post office or direct to UPS or FedEx. Use your smart phone smartly. Record the whole transaction, including promises made. Check that the label is what you paid for; take a photo of the label to prove your point. Keep your receipts. Most important of all, ship or mail early so there’s time for recovery — for packages that, unlike my savory, irreplaceable jerky, don’t transmute into another form somewhere en route.