Thank goodness Ollie Kottke is a newborn and not a Harry Potter-obsessed preteen. If he were, then his father Jason Kottke would have had a real problem on his hands when UPS lied to him about its delivery of Kottke's copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" on Saturday. As it was, he was just inconvenienced. As was I. Here's my story — and to my mind, proof that Kottke's missing copy was not an isolated incident, and instead, a big problem for UPS and Amazon.com.
I don't have a preteen child, but instead, a husband who views "Harry Potter" with much the same excitement. So, last Saturday, I checked Amazon.com's site for the tracking information. Delivered, UPS claimed, to the front door. Curious, since I was sitting about 20 feet from my front door. I called UPS's automated information line and discovered it had been delivered to my former work address. So downtown I went, and by luck, a former colleague was at the office to let me in. No "Harry Potter" to be found, even though a UPS deliveryman had called on the building that morning. I called Amazon.com, which was good enough to refund my money and send a new copy, which wouldn't arrive until Wednesday.
The book did show up eventually — but by U.S. Postal Service on Monday, not by UPS. How a book can simultaneously be delivered to an office's front door and entrusted to the USPS for delivery is a feat of magic beyond my understanding.
Amazon.com, of course, did the right thing in issuing a refund. Occasionally, the company fulfills Jeff Bezos's tired promise of being "customer-centric" — in this case, recognizing that the book didn't have much value to me delivered late. (I had to rush over to a physical bookstore and — oh, the indignity! — purchase the book by handing it over the counter to a human being to have it rung up.) It will incur some expense, but leave the incident with its reputation intact.
But UPS? UPS is just screwed. Its vaunted electronic-tracking system has been revealed as full of lies. The data, after all, is only as good as the people who enter it. Kottke speculates that his deliveryman entered in false information to avoid trouble from supervisors who wanted delivery to go off without a hitch. And, perhaps, to avoid having to make Amazon good on the cost of its refunds.
Instead, though, it's been caught out. And now, I'm not inclined to trust anything UPS tells me about any delivery. How do I know that its personnel aren't fudging the data to make their jobs easier, or save their bosses a buck? If we can't trust UPS with the simple delivery of a book that's precious to kids — and more than a few adults — why would we ever put our businesses in its hands?