04 July 2009

Parcel Service

We lately had occasion to stress test the South African post office and it's international connections. Since we are leaving on a long journey without access to a postal address we made sure we did any online ordering and receiving of credit cards, etc, before we left. We have previously lived in the Middle East, where postal delivery is a futuristic concept that may one day be implemented, and house numbers change with the seasons, so we thought we were pretty prepared for haphazard services. Not so:
We were waiting for four parcels:
  1. Merryl had her dive gear sent from New Zealand, via NZ Post with tracking
  2. Stuart was waiting for replacement credit cards from the UK, sent by his parents via courier
  3. I ordered an underwater camera housing from the US, which promised EMS courier shipping
  4. Mark was sending an insured parcel from Germany, containing my camera and a load of Amazon purchases. This was shipped via DHL
The result was:
  1. Merryl's parcel, while trackable, sat in the Northland post office for 6 days as no-one attempted delivery or bothered calling the contact number to arrange pick-up. Apparently the post office doesn't like to make calls to mobiles as that costs money...
  2. The credit cards arrived within 4 days, a record, although it was lucky Stuart was home when the delivery was made, as the driver couldn't work out our address (which is written on the side of our building in large letters). Then again, at least the parcel was trackable all the way.
  3. Amazingly, although it first seemed that the parcel would be delayed and I never received a tracking number, the parcel arrived from the US within a week. Again the delivery driver, even with the help of one of the numerous security guards that inhabit Melrose Arch, was about to leave as he couldn't identify the address.
  4. The DHL parcel was the most fraught, as it contained some electronics we needed for the car as well as my repaired camera we needed for the doc, and most importantly Merryl's tent. Without it she might have slept in the open. The first sign of trouble came when Mark tried to deliver the parcel to the DHL office. Three trips later he had wrapped the parcel variously with twine and sticky tape and even bought some sealing wax to make it customs proof. Apparently no-one had a clear idea what the rules were, but everyone had an idea how to fulfill them. The real surprise came when I went to track the parcel online using the tracking number prominently displayed on the receipt. No such number. Hmmm. Calling the customer service centre I find that not only does this tracking number not work online, but that the parcel can't be tracked once it has left Germany. Apparently the parcel you really care about, the one that you insure, the valuable one, is the one that can't be followed and may disappear into the void for days (as happened to mine), "for security reasons". By the time I had received the item (this one wasn't delivered either), it had gone through four tracking numbers, none of which showed up in any publicly available system.
Lessons learnt for future overseas parcel posting:
  • When paying for tracking, make sure that means international tracking all the way, and ensure that you know which tracking number to use.
  • Always put a contact number on the parcel. It likely won't get used, but you never know, you might actually be contacted when your parcel arrives.
  • Call the customer service centre with your details every day, well before the parcel is due. It might help your mail delivery karma, and if you're lucky someone can tell you where your parcel is currently stored.
  • Shipping from the ex-imperial centre to it's ex-outposts seems to be more efficient than shipping from some other country (see speedy delivery of the credit cards from the UK to South Africa), even from an efficency hub like Germany.
  • Pay more, send early!

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