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Reasons Your Packages May End up in the Trash

A New York City postal carrier drew attention to the problem of undelivered mail when he was charged with throwing away 1,000 letters and packages because he had become overwhelmed by the increase in mail in December.

It’s a sensational story, but the problem of undelivered mail is real and is no laughing matter to online buyers and sellers. The USPS “lost-and-found” received 88 million items in 2014. The Mail Recover Center (MRC), as it’s called, is tasked with trying to return such items to recipients or senders. The center opens packages in the hopes of finding address information that will allow the delivery or return of items valued at $25 or more.

But your Post Office may be leading you astray if you go to file a claim for a missing package. That’s according to the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG), which found that the Postal Service routinely tells customers to delay submitting search inquiries for lost packages for as many as 3 to 4 weeks, when the request should be made within 5 days of the mailing date for First Class mail. The MRC only retains items for a minimum of 30 days before sending items valued at $25 to auction.

We were struck by the stated threshold of $25 – it would seem the MRC disposes of items valued at less than $25, and it’s unclear how the MRC determines the value of items.

The OIG also found that the MRC did not track how many inquiries resulted in items returned to customers; did not return, dispose of, or secure military items efficiently; and did not sufficiently oversee the contractor responsible for auctioning unclaimed items at the MRC.

The Inspector General’s Office also found the Postal Service’s MRC did not return wallets, purses, and the documents they contained to customers. That last point seemed odd, so we looked to see what the OIG said exactly:

“The MRC did not return wallets, purses, and their contents as required. Postal Service policy states the Postal Service must “Return to the owners any wallets, bank deposits, or other nonmail matter found in collection boxes or other points within Postal Service jurisdiction, postage-due at the single-piece Standard Mail rates for these articles.” Instead, the MRC donated or destroyed wallets and purses after removing all PII (personally identifiable information) in order to protect customers against identity theft. The MRC did not attempt to notify the owners.”

According to the USPS Office of Inspector General, of the 88 million items the MRC received in 2014, 2 million were parcels, books and media, and over 85 million were letters, flats and manuals. The MRC processed 12 million of those valued at $25, and returned 2.5 million items to customers. It donates, recycles, discards, or auctions all items it does not return to customers.

The OIG also concluded that as a result of inadequate policies and procedures of Postal Service operations outside of the MRC’s control, “there is an increased risk that customers may not have the opportunity to recover lost items.”

There’s some good news, however. USPS management agreed to enhance procedures for handling lost and undeliverable mail related to customer inquiries.

Management developed a revised service talk for field personnel. The service talk will instruct employees to complete an electronic Search Form inquiry as soon as they are contacted by a customer and provide time frames for field personnel to recommend to customers. The target implementation date is January 31, 2016.

In addition, customers will be able to enter their own search requests via USPS.com, which will provide better tracking and reporting capabilities. The target implementation date is April 30, 2016.

Management also agreed to work with military contacts to optimize opportunities to forward military mail and agreed to review its policies for wallets and purses. Management also intends to meet with the contractor who handles the auctions to evaluate strategies to optimize revenue by March 31, 2016.

Appendix B in the report contains management’s full response to the OIG findings. You can find the report (PDF) on the USPSOIG.gov website.

Note: This story was updated shortly after it was posted on Wednesday evening.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.