Harry Potter and the Phantom Delivery  JUL 23 2007

Back in April, I pre-ordered Harry Potter 7 from Amazon. They guaranteed delivery on its release date, Saturday July 21 before 7pm or they would refund the cost of the book...the details of that offer are here. All day Saturday until shortly after 7pm, the UPS tracking information indicated that the package containing my copy of the book was "IN TRANSIT TO FINAL DESTINATION", which is UPS-speak for "the UPS guy/gal who will deliver your book does not yet have it in his/her possession"...the magic phrase for that action is "OUT FOR DELIVERY".

At some point after 7pm, the UPS status page updated to say that a notice was left at 3:36 pm, implying that a delivery attempt was made and no one was home to receive it. (Amazon's tracking page says that UPS told them "Delivery attempted - recipient not home".) No such notice was left. My door buzzer did not ring at 3:36 pm (I was home all day on Saturday) and the doorman of the building next door who takes the deliveries for our building when people aren't home reported no notice or delivery attempt. Here's the complete tracking info from UPS:

Location // Date // Local Time // Description
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/21/2007 // 3:36 P.M. // NOTICE LEFT
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/20/2007 // 12:00 P.M. // IN TRANSIT TO FINAL DESTINATION
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/19/2007 // 4:51 P.M. // DESTINATION SCAN
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/19/2007 // 4:50 P.M. // ORIGIN SCAN
US // 07/19/2007 // 1:34 P.M. // BILLING INFORMATION RECEIVED

Maybe I'm lying about being home or maybe the person trying to deliver the package made an honest mistake, but it's curious that a delivery attempt could have been made when the package was not even "OUT FOR DELIVERY". Here's what I think happened. I think UPS's network was overwhelmed by Amazon's Potter-volume in some parts of the country and they had no way to deliver all those packages. (The forums for the book at Amazon and Google Blog Search are full of similar complaints from others...warning, spoilers! UPS even offloaded some of the volume to the USPS for "last-mile" delivery.) So, UPS just marked all of those packages they had no intention of delivering as "oops, we missed you, you must have been out".

Let's go back to Amazon's guarantee, which states that the refund "does not apply if delivery is attempted, but no one is available to accept the package". Amazon would be pretty angry with UPS if they cost them a bunch of money due to refunds and, more importantly, the loss of a bunch of customer goodwill...maybe Amazon would switch a larger portion of their formidable package output to another carrier, for instance. So UPS intentionally misclassifying those deliveries covers their ass with Amazon and covers Amazon's ass with regard to the refund.

My copy of the book from Amazon will be here sometime today (UPS doesn't deliver on Sunday), by which time I'll already have mostly finished the copy I bought at Barnes & Noble about 7:30 pm Saturday evening. The extra $20 isn't a big deal to me and neither is having to wait all day to start in on the book. But this book was a *huge* deal for Amazon (2+ million pre-orders out of a first printing of 12 million) and for their customers who desired their instant Potter gratification. Amazon should be hopping mad at UPS over this; UPS shifted the blame from themselves to Amazon's customers...who are in turn going to blame Amazon, doubly so because Amazon probably won't might not issue refunds for those "missed" deliveries because they don't need to. A customer service-oriented company like Amazon shouldn't take this kind of crap from their shipping vendor...incidents like these will erode customer goodwill and eventually their customer base, the retention of which is one of Amazon's stated primary goals.

Update: I've asked Amazon for a refund and am waiting on their reply. From the emails I've gotten from readers so far, it sounds like Amazon is being liberal in the refund policy, as one would expect.

Update: No word from Amazon yet, but the USPS (not UPS) delivered my book Monday morning. It had a UPS sticker on it with instructions to the Post Office to deliver it to me. No update on the UPS tracking page that its been delivered. I'm tempted to leave it unopened in its custom Amazon box as a collector's item. Maybe I can get JK Rowling and Jeff Bezos to sign it.

Update: Amazon issued me a refund for the book.

Read more posts on kottke.org about:
Amazon   books   business   firstworldproblems   Harry Potter   ups

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