The unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service is well known – “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” The regular and predictable delivery of mail is such a dependable fact of American life that most of us take it for granted. Unfortunately, 2020 has seen a postal service slowdown that has surprisingly far-reaching repercussions for both personal and business mail.
Challenges for Small Businesses
Recently, the USPS has experienced delivery delays. These are often unpredictable, leaving customers and businesses wondering when their packages will arrive, and people surprised to find empty mailboxes when the mail simply doesn’t get delivered that day. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every facet of doing business and the mail slowdown is part of this.
One major factor contributing to the postal service slowdown is the increase in online ordering. Public health officials have been encouraging people to stay home as much as possible, and this includes ordering necessities online. Couple that with mass school closings leading parents desperately ordering supplies online to keep their kids entertained at home, and you have an enormous spike in online ordering. As the crisis drags on, research indicates that customers might stick to their new shopping habits.
In an age where two-day shipping has become a norm, unpredictable delays frustrate customers. Although the slowdown at the USPS is widely known, customers waiting extra days – or even weeks- for their deliveries usually want reparation from the business itself. Small business owners are thus placed in the position of having to issue refunds or discounts to unsatisfied customers or eat the cost of faster shipping through FedEx or UPS. Unfortunately, private shipping companies are often unaffordable for all but the largest e-merchants.
Mail has been slow since the summer, but record-breaking levels of holiday shopping have further stretched an already struggling system. Online Black Friday sales broke records this year and vendors with an online presence did a brisk business throughout the holiday shopping season.
The massive influx of packages has led to private carriers, UPS, and FedEx imposing shipping caps on the number of packages they will accept. Consequently, some vendors were forced to reaccept and relabel their packages before sending them on to an already-swamped USPS, adding extra days on the delivery time.
For small business owners, this means that you are now competing with big-box retailers like Target and Costco when shipping through the postal service. To communicate these delays, many retailers added large headers to their websites urging customers to order by a certain date for on-time Christmas delivery.
How You Can Connect with Customers During Slowdowns and Delays
Any small business owner worth his or her salt knows that business thrives only when customers are satisfied. The postal service slowdown places added stress on customers and businesses alike. One of the ways to manage these challenges is by communicating frequently with customers. This doesn’t mean taking to your email list to complain about late deliveries. Instead, providing a “behind-the-scenes” look at how hard you and your employees are working to prioritize safety and serve your customers redirects the conversation and helps customers understand that delays are not being caused by inattention or carelessness.
While you may not be seeing your customers face-to-face much, there are multiple online tools you can use to communicate with your customers. Social media channels can reach people as they quickly scroll through in their spare moments, and these kinds of posts are actually easier to create than most people think. Using a tool like Mailchimp to manage a weekly email list keeps customers up to date with what’s happening at your business and can include incentives to help offset the frustrations of shipping delays. You can find more ways to boost your business’s online presence and connect with your customers here.
The USPS delivers, on average, over 472.1 million pieces of mail per day, and small businesses rely on this service. Until the USPS adjusts to the new demand for online ordering in a post-pandemic world, prioritizing good communication with customers will help small businesses weather the storm.