Friday, 15 February 2013

How to get something lost in the mail

In December 2012, after installing some RAM upgrades I bought for my Mac from a US dealer, I found one was a dud, and organized to send it back (along with a couple of used parts for which they would give me a rebate).

After about a month, I realized my package should have reached its destination. It hadn’t. I contacted the South African Post Office because their tracking site showed it had reached the last step in South Africa in two days. Their customer service person told me I should try to track it in the US. This I thought would go nowhere, but no, the USPS tracking service accepted my South African tracking number.

Now it gets interesting.

The prejudice people in this part of the world have is that it must have been stolen or lost in South Africa. Here’s the log of where it’s been in the US:

So it reached the US within three days of posting. Good so far. But why was it bouncing around between facilities in New York?

I asked the recipient if they could check, and they were told an enquiry had to be initiated from the originating post office. That, I thought would lead nowhere.

Again, I was wrong – at least in getting started. My local post office could not have been more helpful. The postmaster tried to find out more through their internal systems and when he couldn’t, helped me set up an enquiry. Some of the paperwork involved doing an affidavit via my local police station, a reminder of indifference to service from some parts of South African society.

But anyway, my enquiry is in the system. And maybe at some point my package will surface. Or be declared lost so I can claim on the insurance.

Maybe it’s not a huge plus for South Africa to have a friendlier, more efficient postal service than the US. But it’s great to be better sometimes.


On 30 April, I received notification from the US supplier that the package had arrived, nearly five months after I put it in the mail, and most of that time it was lost somewhere in the US postal system. As if to erase their embarassment, the USPS tracking site now only shows movements in the package’s final days, once it had somehow migrated from New York to Illinois.

Whether it’s been in Illinois or New York all that time or somewhere else will now doubt never be revealed. All I know is the USPS is capable of extreme incompetence. And possibly extreme embarrassment. Sorry USPS goblins: your secret is exposed on this page. Here is the latest tracking information as of 30 April 2013:


I visited my local post office and the postmaster checked with his tracking department. They put in three requests spaced roughly a month apart to trace the item. The last on 24 April was a final request that, if not satisfied, would have resulted in paying me compensation (I insured it; it turns out the postal service is very optimistic that things will eventually turn up, and this time they were right). Magically, four days later the item appeared and took one more day to get delivered.

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