mailman

As I write this, I’m sitting at my home waiting for a package. It’s 9:30am and I have things to do that require me to, you know, go out into the world. Unfortunately, this particular package is expensive and requires a signature. The only information I have, courtesy of UPS.com, is that my package arrived at the Gardena UPS fulfillment center, which is 8.1 miles away, at 3:42am this morning and was loaded on to the truck for delivery at 7:31am. According to the not-so-helpful customer service agent, who I reached after the automated system told me it had no record of my package, I can expect my delivery between approximately 9am and 7pm.

Wait – subtract the one, carry the two – yep, that’s a 10 hour window. TEN HOURS! Yet this is the most precise information available from UPS. According to the agent, he has no way to access the drivers’ routs or communicate with them to check on status. More likely, the company’s policies prevent such information from being given out to consumers – for good reason, but more on that later.

Come on! The calendar reads twenty freakin’ thirteen. Must we still wait cluelessly wondering when a package, or the cable TV guy, or dishwasher repairman will get his ass to our homes? A 2010 survey concluded that waiting for the cable TV dude alone costs Americans $37.7 billion in lost productivity. It’s not a new problem, mind you. It’s been a punchline for comedians, sitcoms, and the like for years. But given location tracking and scheduling innovations, why should this be “just the way it is”?

We live in an era when I can locate an Uber, Sidecar, Lyft, or YellowCab driver down to the city block and track his progress to my pickup location. Why then are we relegated in the other industries to the same level of technophobic “service” that existed 15 years ago? It’s not like UPS (or FedEx, or DHL) aren’t using cutting edge logistics software to route and track their fleet of delivery vehicles. The company knows the precise location of every vehicle, as well as their exact contents and routes. Such information helps optimize efficiency for these incredibly high volume, low margin businesses.

But why are consumers left out? There are security concerns for providing the exact location of vehicles that may carry piles of expensive consumer electronics, amid all the care packages of baked goods and closeout fashions. But I don’t need to know the precise longitude and latitude of my particular package – only that it is in the general vicinity of my home and likely to arrive within, say, a 30 minute window. The same is true of the plumber, the electrician, the cable repairman, etc.

Such information would be particularly helpful when I want to run out to grab lunch or spend some productive time at my office (which is a short 5-minute drive away), rather than being confined to my home out of fear of missing the package and having to do the whole redelivery scheduling / pick it up in person at some industrial warehouse dance that we all know and loathe so much.

Both UPS and FedEx have made moderate progress in delivery management, allowing users to pay a fee to reroute a package, narrow their delivery window to two hours, or leave special instructions. In the former, this is called UPS Choice and in the latter FedEx Delivery Manager – but in both cases it’s little more than a Band-Aid. Nonetheless, I would gladly have taken advantage had I known about UPS’ version of the service in time. Alas, I only found out while researching this article, so part of the blame is mine. That said, I already paid $19.95 for express delivery, so paying an additional $5 not to be given the runaround doesn’t exactly make me a happy customer. And a two hour window, while an improvement, is still woefully inadequate. What I want is technology that makes receiving a package and having your cable repaired less painful than waiting in line at the DMV.

This is not to say there’s no innovation going on in the fulfillment and delivery space. The recently launched Amazon Locker service, and competing startups BufferBox (acquired by Google), ShopRunner, MissNev, and Kiala (in Europe) are rethinking home delivery completely. Through these services, packages can be delivered to lockers located in retail stores like Staples and Radioshack. The flexibility and presumed security is nice, and sometimes this solution is just what the doctor ordered. But when things are time sensitive, adding another step to an already frustrating situation isn’t necessarily an improvement.

It’s now 12:39pm and my precious package just arrived. My day is only half shot, but at least I didn’t miss the damn thing. Troy, the deliveryman/driver, was friendly enough, saying, “I feel ya man. That’s the number one complaint we get.”

But Troy isn’t in a position to help. The next time I have a sensitive delivery it will be the same song and dance. Best case scenario, I’ll bend to UPS’ extortion and pay an additional $5 but still have to dedicate two full hours to waiting around. Worst case, I’ll take a stand on principle and spend the day on the couch binge watching old episodes Game of Thrones.

That is, unless UPS and the rest of the delivery and service industries get their heads out of their respective asses.