During pre-COVID times, Q4 was a time to get your brand in the black. This year, more than ever, it is imperative that brands and retailers succeed in Q4. A big piece to that equation is communicating your shipping policies. But before we dive headlong into those recommendations, let’s discuss the state of the United States Postal Service and how we got here.

The pandemic does not seem to have an expiration date, and for many of us, the days seem to blend together without much pomp and circumstance. We have all formed our daily habits and move through this normal accordingly.

Since working from home, my online purchases have skyrocketed. I have been sending birthday presents to friends and family, constantly buying new things for the house and religiously ordering food. You know, support local!

My kitchen table has become my desk and I have started noticing that my daily 3:00 p.m. mail delivery now comes around 7 p.m. or doesn’t arrive at all. Also, my postwoman is now a different person. Amazon Prime does not really live up to its two-day delivery promise these days either.

So, all of this led me to the question that is probably on a lot of people’s minds too, ”What is happening with United States Postal Service?”

To give you a brief history, it all started in 2006 when the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed. This Act required the Postal Service to put money aside for future Post-Retiree health benefits. Also, it is important to note that no other federal agency or private corporation is burdened with this extraordinary law.

Furthermore, this was to be a 50-year schedule and in the first 10 years, USPS was required to save $5 billion. Well, unsurprisingly, the USPS quickly began losing money. Then 2012 rolled around and the USPS was defaulting on payment, thus creating a financial crisis.

In March of 2020, The CARES Act was passed and USPS became eligible for a 10 billion loan from the Treasury Department. Although the money was not readily available on July 29th The Treasury Department and USPS reached an agreement. Hooray!

So, what’s the problem?

May 2020: new leadership was appointed by the Postal Service’s Board of Governors (six people appointed by the POTUS) making Louis DeJoy the new Postmaster General.

Louis DeJoy is the first postmaster general in 20 years that did not have a career as a postal employee. He is a businessman from North Carolina, a Trump donor and invested in many companies that compete or do business with USPS.

It is important to note that DeJoy purchased Amazon stock after his appointment. Which, unsurprisingly, raised some eyebrows. This is a major conflict of interest. Under federal law, it is illegal for federal government employees, or their spouses, to have a financial interest in companies that intersect their official duties. One more thing to note, DeJoy did not reveal that he has $30-75 million in holdings from his former employer, XPO Logistics (which is also a United States Postal Service contractor).

Here is where it gets a little sticky. After the swearing-in of the new Postmaster General on June 16th, 2020, DeJoy quickly got to work banning all overtime for postal workers, dismantling over 800 mail sorting machines and removing mail collection boxes—not to mention the termination of thousands of postal office employees. In a memo to his employees, it stated “If we cannot deliver all the mail due to call-offs or shortage of people and you have no other help, the mail will not go out.” DeJoy has claimed these are all cost-cutting measures.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that all of this is happening during an election year, amidst a pandemic and could potentially interfere with mail-in voting. Many lawmakers have shown concern after letters warning 46 states that the ballots may not be delivered in time for the election.

DeJoy again defended his actions because of the dire financial situation that the Postal Service found itself in. However, a hearing was scheduled and DeJoy moved to have all the controversial changes to the Postal Service suspended until after the election.

Although everything has come to a halt regarding the mailboxes and the sorting machines, the damage has been done. DeJoy has revealed that he does not intend to put all the removed machines and boxes back. This will in turn still cause issues with mail and delivery.

At this point you might be thinking, what advice do we have for this unpredictable holiday season with concern for brands and retailers?

Brands can better address customer shipping needs while working towards business objectives. Here’s a quick checklist when planning for disruption and uncertainty with shipping:

  • Get the kinks worked out of your click-to-curb shopping experience
  • For your affiliate program, use buzzwords like buy-online, pick-up in-store, contactless delivery and click-to-curb
  • Use email and SMS as a quick way to alert consumers of any shipping delays and stress the importance of shopping early
  • Keep your local listings up-to-date with store policies and continually update core landing pages with product availability
  • Consider adding in gifting options to your delivery

It goes without saying that this year has been anything but predictable. So, with that in mind, remain agile with your holiday planning, keep your eyes on the state of the USPS and over-communicate shipping expectations across your channels and mediums.