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Amid a worldwide credit crisis, multiple wars, sanctioned torture, and the starvation of millions, not getting a pair of headlights delivered on time is not a big deal (although the money spent on those missing headlights was not insignificant and now I have neither money nor headlights), but I find the attitude of the shipping company interesting when one’s missing package goes from the initial status of not being delivered exactly on time to still not delivered days later. We start out with, “I do apologize, ma’am, for the inconvenience. I suggest you contact the shipper and ask them to put a tracer on the package. Again, I apologize” and move to something quite different.

I called UPS today to see if anything has changed because, again, the last information they told me on the phone still does not show up on the Web site tracking page. Upon being greeted I say, “Can you tell me if there is any more information about my missing package?” Now that it is officially missing because the shipper has put a trace on the package, the response moved from the singular, blame-assuming “I” to the general, blame-evading “we.” So far, my encounters with UPS customer service indicate that a great deal of thought and training are put into the choice of words and the scripts to be read, so the use of “I” is obviously deliberate. Today it’s: “The investigation only started yesterday, on the 14th [never mind that today is the 17th]. We have seven more business days to complete the investigation.” I ask what the last thing she has noted for this tracking number is: “The investigation.” That was helpful. It’s the same package and it’s still missing, so why does it move from one person being terribly sorry that it was not delivered the day it was promised, to UPS as a whole saying: Keep your pants on; we told you we wouldn’t know anything for, effectively, two more weeks.

And I wonder about the fact that the shipper is the customer, and the shippee can’t even request that a package be traced. Rarely does a shipper actually pay for the shipping, but collects the shipping charge, and then some, from its customer. A few years ago I ordered some flower leis from Hawaii, very much an uncharacteristic extravagance on my part. I paid too much money to have them shipped by FedEx, the only way such a perishable item can arrive in usuable shape (I had no choice in which shipper was used). They didn’t arrive on time, and there is no point in having leis after the occassion they were ordered, with some care, for. My only recourse was to ask the merchant to get the money for the product and the shipping charge back from FedEx (they did), and then refund the money to me (they didn’t). I was out my leis and the money I spent on them, while the flower company was paid twice for the product, with the bonus of getting the shipping charges I paid for given to them. I called Hawaii but never got a live person. I e-mailed multiple times and still, two-and-a-half years later, the only response I’ve gotten are regular sales e-mails: “Thanks for ordering from us in the past. Here are our current specials.” They ask that customers rate their buying experience on a Yahoo board. After telling them multiple times that I was going to leave a negative comment explaining exactly how they had stolen my money, they didn’t respond. I did as I said, careful to use only facts and not emotion so as to not discredit my comment. Still no response. I called FedEx, but their customer is the shipper and so what the shipper does with the refund is of no concern to them. The merchant acts as an intermediary between the customer and the shipper, and often collects a handling charge for doing so, but the person paying for the shipping has no rights.

It’s a good thing the box with my headlights didn’t also contain the new kidney I’ve been waiting for.