February 2012
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The Shipping Dues

By David Feela

Increasingly what we need we haven’t got and to get it to us requires a corporation. The Post Office just stamps its feet and continues to manufacture more boxes. I don’t know about you, but increased shipping costs make my health-insurance premiums appear more modest and affordable.

Probably the best delivery bargain left on the continent is still the U. S. Post Office’s single-ounce letter for 44 cents, but so few people write letters anymore. Email, texting, cell phones, Skype, and telepathy have all taken the place of a sincerely yours.

To take the sting out of repetitive rate increases, the Post Office issued what they call the “Forever” stamp, which means if you purchase, say, $10,000 worth of first-class stamps and squirrel them away in a dark drawer, theoretically, if trees, paper, and the Post Office still exist in 2025, you’ll be able to send your letter for the cost of a 2012 postage stamp. What a deal. Imagine the thrifty old folks leaving their unused Forever stamps to their grandchildren as part of their inheritance.

Another even more pessimistic interpretation of what the “Forever” stands for is the eternal truth that all you can be certain of is death, taxes, and that shipping costs will continue to rise.

UPS, Fed-Ex, DHL — they’re all in the same business. The U.S. Post Office is only the most prominent shipping carrier facing financial ruin. The private companies don’t have to submit their rate-increase proposals to anyone for approval. Their personnel smile more, but being cheerful has a price tag.

Recently I purchased a licenseplate mount for the front bumper of my new used vehicle. I couldn’t locate the proper mount locally, so I went to that digital warehouse called the internet to find one. The best price I found was just over $30, a competitive rate when compared with local auto suppliers’ prices, but this one fit my bumper perfectly. I ordered it, thinking I’d gotten a bargain.

When shipping costs were calculated, the total came out to over $50. The plastic mount weighed a total of two pounds, which included its packaging! I won’t even mention what County Clerk charged me for the license plate.

The cost of merchandise is steadily on the rise too, but more and more the monetary value of the product being shipped is actually less than the cost of shipping it. Carriers blame gas prices, which is a fair explanation, but it doesn’t account for all those gougers out there whose profit margins are jacked up by shipping “and handling” charges that exceed the actual shipping costs — a detail often hidden from the purchaser even after the package arrives.

I mention all this because reining in the escalating cost of shipping is a must, something that we as a consumer nation rely on more and more. Less and less of what we need is produced locally, or even within a reasonable distance from the place we call home, including the very food we put in our mouths. Santa Claus is not a workable solution, nor is the prospect of getting a Star Trek transporter beam online for the next generation.

Maybe what we need is closer to what politicians keep talking about with taxes, not just a flat rate but an equitable one. I mean, how can the businesses that send me a continuous stream of junk mail that clutters my mailbox ever afford to stay in business? Is it possible the residential shipping rates I’m paying are far out of whack with the bulk and commercial rates they’re paying? What about a little transparency along with those tracking numbers? What kind of mpp (that’s miles per package) is my little bundle getting by the time it arrives?

If we don’t fix it, the future of shipping might look like this:

“I’d like to ship this package, please.”

“Certainly. How quickly do you want it to arrive?”

“Standard shipping will be fine.”

“So you don’t care about the person who’s receiving it?”

“Of course I care.”

“Standard shipping is no way to show you care. May I recommend our triple upgrade.”

“I just want it to arrive in good condition.”

“Our triple upgrade guarantees that. The first upgrade makes sure it’s on the correct truck, the second upgrade discourages abusive drivers from handling your delivery, and the third upgrade triples your shipping cost.”

“Why would I want to triple my cost?”

“To show you care, in a non-awkward way.”

“I’ll stick with standard shipping.”

“That will be fifty dollars.”

“Fifty dollars? How much with insurance?”

“A hundred and fifty.”

“I’ll drive it there myself for a hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Excellent. If you’ll back up to the loading dock before leaving, we have a few other packages going in your direction.”

David Feela writes from rural Montezuma County, Colo.


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