Slow overseas postal service hits online commerceentrepreneurs

Since August 25, Jamaica Post lifted the suspension of Express Mail Service to the UK, but a backlog continues.

“We are threatening to demonstrate because we need assurances,” stated Michael Patch of MikesVinyl, which sells Rocksteady and Ska records, in a phone interview with the Jamaica Observer on Monday.

The Post and Telecommunication Department (Jamaica Post) recently launched its new rapid 24-hour inland service called Zipmail. But the delay shows the fragility of the international side of the postal service; especially in an era of increased parcel exports fuelled in part by online commerce.

“Usually delivery to the UK takes two to three weeks,” reasoned Patch about delays which started in July but will stretch delivery times into September.

Patch is one of many individuals and companies that sell quality Jamaican products online, including vinyl records, sauces, oils, coffees, sandals and other items. Consequently this ‘unprecedented’ delay could cumulatively put millions of dollars worth of goods at risk.

“Customers keep calling about the records and they can’t track it,” he added about his customers mainly from the UK, Germany and Japan.

Patch’s customers see “dancehall as on the decline” but will pay top dollar for vinyl from established vintage artistes. Patch added that the delay further damages the island’s reputation, as some buyers already view Jamaicans as deceitful.

“They are starting to open disputes,” Patch indicated, adding that time means money.

Slow delivery often results in buyers opening disputes, which places funds in escrow on online payment services such as Paypal. By default Paypal refunds monies to buyers for non-delivery. Therefore the buyer will get the product for free at the expense of the seller. Successful appeals require evidence of delivery within a short period of time, sellers told the Caribbean Business Report.

“This is total slackness and there is no accountability. It’s not the first time that there are delays, but this is by far the worst,” said another online seller who opted to remain anonymous as he is employed in the public sector. His disputes currently total some US$200 due directly to this issue.

The volume of letters handled by Jamaica Post unsurprisingly declined over the last five years from 67 million in 2010 to 45.7 million in 2014. However, the volume of parcels handled increased from 86,000 in 2010 to 97,000 in 2014, while the volume of packages and express mail (faster methods) increased from 113,000 to 119,000 over the same period.

Despite the parcel growth, Jamaica Post recorded a $408-million deficit for the 2014 fiscal year on some $1.5 billion in revenues, compared with a deficit of $355 million the previous year.

The delay between July 8 and August 20 was officially the result of challenges to its airlift partner, said Jamaica Post in a response to Caribbean Business Report queries on Monday.

“We have been advising customers on the status of their items whenever they call into our Customer Service Unit,” Jamaica Post added on Monday.

“The delay was as a result of challenges with our airlift partner which have since been resolved and the items handed over to the British Post for processing and delivery. The Department has noted that some customers have reported that these items have still not been delivered, prompting further dialogue with our postal partner to determine the reason for the non-delivery of these mail items.”

The Post and Telecommunications Department said it “regrets” the inconvenience and that the department continues to negotiate, advocate and pursue alternative options for mail delivery.


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