US Postal Service, A New Year, An Old Failure

Last year around this time, I wrote a blog post about the 2011 USPS failure. They made a major unannounced change to their rate service that thousands of ecommerce applications depend on for returning shipping rates to customers. It caused major issues and rate problems for many online merchants.

Fast forward to 2012, and the USPS has once again caused upheaval for the ecommerce industry. Although less of an impact from last year’s debacle, it still is a major issue for merchants offering First Class shipping options.

What did they do this time?

This year, they chose to change the name of First Class rates from “package” to “parcel“. Sounds like a simple harmless change. It would be if the USPS didn’t make the shipping option name the unique identifier for the service.

That’s right, the key that every ecommerce application uses for knowing it’s the right shipping option is the very name USPS chose to change!

Basic programming dictates that you assign a unique key/field to each option, so a change to the name of the option would not change the application. Ah, the government at work, gotta love it.

“But we let you know!”

Last year, the USPS chose to tell NO ONE about the name changes they put in place. Seems someone was listening over there, as this year they sent an email to *some* people informing them of the name change. The key word in the last sentence is “some”.

Seems most developers (including us, ShopSite, and other ecommerce vendors) didn’t get the message. In fact, doing a Google search for the phrases in the email show it was not posted on the USPS website, nor was it posted on their Postal Explorer information site. Just forums and blogs talking about the issue after it impacted them. (If I’m wrong about this, please let me know.)

Patches being issued, workarounds available

ShopSite is working on a patch to fix this First Class issue. We’ll be applying it to all Version 11 SP1 stores as soon as it’s available.

UPDATE 1/24/2012, 10:00 PM ETAll ShopSite stores running version 11 SP1 that are hosted with us have been patched to fix this issue.

In the interim, if you need to return first class rates, you could choose to return “First Class Letter” (up to 3.5 ounces) or “First Class Flat”, both of which were unaffected by the USPS change. For these to work, you would have to change each product’s package type though. So, it may be easier to wait for us to patch your store if you are affected.

I won’t beat a dead horse, or re-post all my lessons that the USPS still has to learn (if they’re still in business in the future). Read last year’s post for my admonishments.  :)

In the meantime, we’ll work on patching stores and getting First Class rates back in business for our clients.

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2 Comments

  1. obiewan says:

    US Postal Service, A New Year, An Old Failure…You Say!

    Lets compare USPS and Fed-X first-class rates…
    Currently, a 44 cent stamp will get a letter from Houston to New York in two to three days. According to the FedEx website, two-day delivery of a similar letter to the same destination will cost between $20-30 dollars.

    As a private company FedEx is expected to make a profit, and its rates reflect this fact. As a government agency, the USPS is intentionally designed with no requirement to make a profit in order to provide a universally accessible service to the country.

    • I agree with you. The failure on the USPS part in my opinion was in how they implemented their API for ecommerce applications, and the lack of a global notification for a far reaching change.

      I won’t argue with you about the cost and the service they provide in terms of actual mail delivery. It’s their “e-business” that they have to fix.

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