|Q: My International Priority package is overdue. Where is it?!?
Q: Can you tell me where it is exactly?
Q: Can you tell me when it will get here?
Q: Can you get the Postal Service to find investigate for me?
Q: So all you can tell me is that it was mailed, the tracking shows that it is enroute, and it will arrive whenever it arrives?
A: Bingo! Yes, that's it exactly.
That's the sum of it. If you have time to kill, and want the complete tree-slaying explanation.. here it is:
This is one of those 'FAQ's' that really is not just an opportunity for us to crack wise; but really is a Frequently Asked Question in need of a solid boilerplate answer, as it comes up at least 2 or 3 times each catalog. Just so you know, I am making some seemingly bold statements here, so I ran all of this by our favorite postmaster and several other postal people to get their input and to make sure that we were not passing along any incorrect information.
First, if you are currently a customer who is concerned about an international package that you are expecting from AGM, let not your heart be troubled. You are not alone, it happens fairly often, and 99.99% of the time the story ends with all customers smiling and relieved. Sure, something could in fact go horribly wrong, but it almost never does. However, the slow nature of delivery is not your imagination. As the various postal service organizations around the world bounce from one security freak-out to the next, delivery can sometimes much more slow than one would expect.
Some things you should know:
1) The delivery countdown clock did not necessarily start ticking the moment we received your payment. For the full version of "Where's my stuff?!?", click here to go to that FAQ. Here's the short version: Unless a catalog was a complete failure, we will normally have somewhere between 300 and 400 packages to pick, wrap, and ship. Even doing it half-assed takes some time. Doing it properly takes considerably longer. We find 'properly' to be wildly preferable for all concerned, so depending on the volume and complexity of orders on any one particular catalog, it may take as long as 6-10 business days before your package is dispatched.
2) The time in transit guesses posted on the US Postal Service website are pretty much meaningless. Once it leaves the USA, they no longer have any control over it anyway. If it sits in a customs warehouse in Heathrow for 3 hours or 3 weeks.. that is beyond the influence of the US Postal Service, our window clerk, the postmaster, and certainly AGM.
3) Once we hand your package over to the post office and it leaves for the local sorting center, there is absolutely nothing that we or they can do to locate it, speed it up, encourage customs to finish their work, or even ensure that your local postal delivery person smiles cheerfully when he or she finally places it into your eager hands.
4) The tracking information that you and I see on the computer happens to be exactly the same data available to the post office window clerk, his postmaster, the district grand poo-bah, regional potentate, directors of MI-6, DGSE, CIA, ASIS, etc. Going to the post office to ask about a package that we mailed days or weeks earlier serves only to waste the time of all involved.
5) Tracking on International packages while they are enroute is often spotty. While visiting with the postmaster, I think I learned why this is. The barcode readers at the various stops along the way will sometimes have difficulty reading the tracking # barcode on the label, especially if the equipment is dirty, obscured, or if the label was generated by a printer with low toner or other issues. We are lucky enough to have a fairly industrious postmaster who is working at a quiet, rural post office that doesn't do a large volume of business. When a tracking number is missed by the scanner here, our postmaster will likely take notice, and enter the numbers by hand into the computer. However, the next few stops are goint to be giant sorting centers where mail is passing through like coal on a conveyor belt. That system is rather unlikely to slow down or stop in order to hand-enter the data if it is not automatically caught along the way. Consequently, sometimes a package will have an entry telling us that it was "accepted" at our local post office, two or three weeks pass with no data at all, then out it pops on the other side and shows "delivered." If a customer is anticipating an expensive package and for two weeks all they see is "electronic shipping info received" and "shipment accepted" with nothing else posted in the meantime, it can make people worry unnecessarily. I am convinced one or two of our customers have actually suffered a rectal prolapse from the stress induced by such a vigil. Other times, the tracking will read like the travel diary from a Crosby and Hope road film, but in many cases the big string of entries is posted at the very end, within a day or so of successful delivery.
6) According to the candid talks with several postal guys, there are an infinite number of things that can delay packages. The boxes are sorted and bundled together on pallets, which go on to trucks, which in this part of the US normally go to Chicago for international dispatch. It tags along on international commercial flights "as space permits." On the other end, mail goes into customs, and when it emerges it is then released to the tender mercy of the destination country's postal system.
At any number of tactical choke points in this process, a batch of mail can be sidelined because of lack of space, mechanicals, weather, security screenings on both ends of the tunnel, dogs sniffing the pallets looking for explosive residue, drugs, etc., X-rays for scary-looking contraband, etc. An increasing number of security protocols must be observed, and each provides a wonderful opportunity for some mail to mysteriously sit idle while other batches are processed all around it. If something is not quite right with just one parcel in the pallet that your package happens to be on, then that whole damn pallet is going to sit until it can be disassembled and the offending parcel sorted out. Add to that the apparently whimsical systems in use by most national customs inspectors, the idiosyncrasies of your local postal system and you can easily see how a package mailed on January 25 could arrive two weeks before one that had been mailed on January 2.
Guys, we mail over 1000 international packages per year. (much more, actually.) I understand that you may have received four or five in the past six months, and that you sincerely believe that you know when one should have arrived already. I am aware that customers get frustrated when we tell them that 2 or 3 weeks is "way too early" to panic. We say that not to discourage or annoy you; we say it because it is true. Customers tell us all the time that in other cases the post office has offered to "put tracers" on overdue packages for them, figured out which flight it was on, and were glad to start busily "tracking it down". I hate to be the mythbuster here, but knowing that they really cannot 'track down' anything other than a registered package, this sounds like something you tell a customer to get him to go away and be quiet, buying time for the package to eventually arrive.. as they do 99.99% of the time. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that REGISTERED Mail is an option that is extremely slow - much more so than International Priority.
If you want fast delivery and step-by-step tracking, the only real options available are FedEX and UPS. For most packages, however, both of these are breathtakingly expensive.
Bottom line - don't worry, it will get there.