Survey reveals USPS service issues with two key parcel products

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) experienced unusual increases in delivery delays and arrival times with two of its main parcel-delivery products as the summer progressed, according to a survey by a technology company that processes tens of millions of USPS parcels on its platform.

The survey, conducted by Shippo, compared service levels for USPS’ Priority Mail and First Class Package Service (FCPS) between the July-August time frame and the May-June period. It found that 17.45% more packages were delayed during the two midsummer months, and that 9.03% more parcels were taking longer to arrive. For FCPS, per-package delays increased by 31.28%, while parcels, on average, took 8.8% longer to arrive than during the May-June time frame, the survey found.

The survey canvassed “tens of millions” of parcels tracked by Shippo during the survey period, it said. Shippo is a multicarrier IT platform that helps e-commerce enterprises identify the best rate-service value for their shipments. 

Priority Mail provides two- to three-day deliveries of items weighing up to 70 pounds. FCPS provides two- to five-day deliveries, depending on origin and destination markets, of pieces weighing up to 13 ounces for retail customers and 1 pound for commercial customers. Both products generate significant volumes for USPS. In the April-June quarter, Priority Mail volume totaled 358 million pieces while FCPS volume was 601 million, according to data from The Colography Group Inc., a consultancy. The April-June quarter, which is USPS’ fiscal 2020 third quarter, covered the most extreme period of the government shelter-in-place orders designed to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Mario Paganini, Shippo’s marketing director, called the increases “somewhat abnormal” compared to month-over-month fluctuations that the company has previously seen. Paganini said he couldn’t determine the cause of the degradation. Nor could he explain why service levels worsened as the parcel market moved further away from what had been considered the worst part of the pandemic up to this point. Paganini said he hadn’t spoken to USPS officials about the findings.

Paganini emphasized the increases in delays and transit times do not represent a “massive degradation” of USPS’ service levels. Most Shippo customers who end up using the two products are generally satisfied with the service they receive, he said. 

Based on the Shippo data, most of the delays are measured in hours, not days. That said, the frequency of service issues increased substantially, in percentage terms, from one survey period to the next.

USPS continues to handle enormous parcel volumes, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has acknowledged customer and worker complaints about service issues across the enterprise. Those problems are on their way to being rectified, he said. The controversial service changes that DeJoy announced earlier this summer in an effort to improve efficiency have been tabled until after the Nov. 3 general election.

According to the survey, USPS parcels moving longer distances typically experienced longer delays and transit times during the July-August period. All parcel carriers experienced massive delivery spikes as homebound Americans during the early months of the pandemic increasingly turned to e-commerce as a buying channel. For example, FCPS volume in the period soared 77.3%, and revenue increased by 84.5% from year-earlier levels, according to USPS data.

Certain routes showed unusual spikes in service issues, according to the survey. For example, a Priority Mail package shipped within Massachusetts had a 54% chance of being delayed, compared with a 24% chance nationwide. For FCPS, nine of the 10 most delayed routes originated in California, with average delays in July and August increasing by 30% from May-June levels. The national average of delivery delays was 17%, according to Shippo data. However, nine of the top ten most-delayed routes originated in California, with average delays nearing 30%. 

Mark S. Schoeman, The Colography Group’s CEO and an expert on USPS parcel-delivery trends, said the Shippo data is “interesting and provides a good directional perspective” on delivery performance. Schoeman cautioned, however, that the survey universe is not necessarily representative of total volumes for both products because it only covers parcels moving across Shippo’s platform.

Paganini said Shippo launched the survey after customers made it aware of USPS service issues. Priority Mail and FCPS are two of the three most popular USPS products on the Shippo platform. The third, the Express Priority Mail next-day delivery service , was also analyzed but identified no service issues, he said.