Caveat Emptor ---Beware UPS

If you want to understand the true ethic of a company, have something go wrong and see how they respond. I’ve been shipping stuff back and forth using UPS for years, and have never had anything untoward happen to my packages until now. But this has been a real eye-opener, and the more I’ve dealt with UPS, the more appalling the whole experience has become. Essentially, as a small business owner and private individual, I’ve learned the hard way I need to be a legal beagle, that their customer service is almost non-existent, and the company doesn’t want to take responsibility for anything. On this web page, I’m going to show you the damage they did to a homebuilt Computer Processing Unit I had shipped to my son and describe the treatment I got when trying to make a claim for compensation. This is not over. I’m looking into taking them to small claims court; and I will file complaints with the Texas Attorney General’s office and the Better Business Bureau. I will never ship anything with UPS again nor will my family. And that’s not just because of this one incident. I believe there is a general pattern of apathy toward the individual customer.

Essentially, shipping anything with UPS is like shooting craps. If you’re not prepared to throw away anything you placed with them, don’t put it in their hands. Even if you do, don’t think insurance will cover you if it’s damaged. For the insurance to mean anything at all, you must meet UPS’s “packaging standards” which are more stringent than the standards used by some computer and computer component manufacturers. Insuring with UPS seems to be simply a way to charge you more for shipping without providing you any additional protection.

So, here’s my story and here’s why you need to be very alert before shipping anything with UPS, especially out of a UPS Store.

For Christmas, I shipped one of my sons a new motherboard, 512 MB DDR RAM, an AMD 2000+ CPU, an ATI Radeon All in Wonder video card, and some software. He lives in a small rural community in Florida with no computer stores nearby and no access to broadband. After several weeks of joint troubleshooting, we were not able to get his “new” system up and running under Windows XP. Having more experience with this kind of thing and ready access to computer parts and broadband, I suggested he ship the CPU here and let me troubleshoot it. If you want to understand what I did to get it running, click here.

Once I had the system up and running, I packed it in the exact same packing it had made the original trip in and the exact same packing the case manufacturer had shipped with the box. When it arrived at my son’s home three days later, he informed me via e-mail that the box had appeared to have had a rough ride. And indeed it had. Here is what he saw:

Obviously, the first thing you see is the major hole in the side of the box. While we don’t know for sure what did that, the shape, size, and location of the hole would imply that it might have been hit with the spine of a forklift. Notice, too, that the box has also been impacted on the top.

Almost looks like the “Fragile: Handle with Care” stickers acted like red flags in front of bull.

The CPU was packed in the original foam that came with the case. Here’s what that looked like after it had been cracked and crushed.

And the PC with the cracked foam in place:

The damage isn’t evident until you try to do two things: (1) Crank up the PC and get it to run, or (2) try to put the impacted side panel back into place. The next picture shows the side panel with it pushed into place as far as it could go.

The case has obviously been warped by whatever impacted it. You can also see a dent on the top of the PC, and I believe that dent is in an area that the foam was covering.

The motherboard had been sprung lose from one its mounting screws. My son stated that the motherboard had been rammed up against a CDRW mounted in one of the 5 inch bays behind it. The computer would not even complete post, much less boot up. When you pull out the motherboard and look at it, you can see why.

The motherboard shows strain in two places from where it was flexed. Both areas (small white marks) are behind the two tall capacitors, or whatever they are.

While I don’t have any pictures to show you, the AMD CPU also no longer fit flat on its 462 pin mount.

The UPS representative that took the “inspection” pictures of the damage claimed that the CPU was “improperly packed” because it did not have 2 inches to 3 inches of foam all the way around it. Take note:

(1) The PC had made several trips back and forth to Florida from Texas and had not been damaged before. This means that the PC had received normal handling on earlier trips or, if this trip was indicative of normal handling by UPS and the “improper packing” had truly been a cause, then we had been extremely lucky.

(2) The rep taking the pictures also stated that the CPU needed to be double-boxed. I haven’t seen any CPU from major manufacturers arrive at my house in a double-box. I have several boxes in my attic I can use to prove that point. UPS’s own documentation do not state that as a requirements.

(3) The damaged CPU case is on its way back to me. I’m going to see if there is some way to calculate how much force it would have taken to deform the case and then calculate how much foam would have absorbed to see if having 2 inches of foam around the CPU would have made a difference. There is a point where no amount of packaging is going to protect your product. Did I hit that for this case?

Of course, the first thing you have to ask yourself is how you are supposed to know what UPS packing standards are, especially since it’s obvious they are above and beyond what many vendors in the computer industry are using, I have never seen any tips posted in any UPS Store, nor have I ever seen any brochures I could have taken home with me to help me pack the package to meet them. Indeed, this lack of available information is part of the trap that is set for the consumer. Some of the information is on the web, though it’s not obvious where . It took me some poking around to find it. I also discovered it at the UPS site in their Rate and Service Guide.

The latest copy of the guide seems to contradict what the rep had said. The CPU weight was in the 30 lb range, and the guide implies that a single-wall corrugated container was enough to safely contain it. There is no mention of using a double-walled container for that weight and certainly no mention of needing it to be “double-boxed”. I also noticed that what I used to ship the CPU in fit the description of an “engineered foam enclosure”in the guide.

To backtrack a bit and understand all the hassle I went through even to get to a denial of my claim, getting a rep out to my son’s house was no small feat. I filed a report almost immediately using UPS electronic reporting form on the web. They were fast at responding to me electronically and told me my son would be contacted within 24 hours and they would arrange to pick up the PC for inspection.

That didn’t happen.

When I called to follow up, I was told by a customer service rep that they didn’t understand it was a CPU and the procedure was different, i.e., they would send a rep out to inspect the damage onsite. They were supposed to call him within 24 hours and set up an appointment to come out.

That didn’t happen, either.

I called the corporate office again. Though the customer service rep was polite, I had to inform her of what their procedure was supposed to be. She did get that entered in the system. I asked her to also have the field office involved give me a call once they had scheduled an appointment. She said she would do that and marked all of urgent.

UPS did call him the next day; but they called him to tell him they would call him in a few more days to make an appointment. They finally showed up and then the rep made it clear that the company wasn’t likely to pay off, though he did admit he wasn’t the adjuster.

And who was the “adjuster” who denied my claim. Was this a true, independent, and bonded insurance adjuster or was this an internal UPS employee whose job it ultimately is to protect the corporate bottom line?

I was told that the UPS Store the package shipped from was the shipper, not me, and that the report would go to the UPS Store in 7 to 10 days.

The UPS Store called me last Thursday. They hung up before I could get to the phone and didn’t leave a message. I knew they had called because I was there and saw the caller i.d. They didn’t call me back again.

On Saturday, I stopped by the local UPS Store (in Friendswood, Texas) and told the man behind the desk I was there to find out about a CPU that had been damaged. At first, he claimed to know nothing about it until I told him he did have the report because the store had called. He then remembered it, told me the claim had been denied, and blamed it all on UPS. He offered nothing. I told him I was willing to take this to small claims court. He continued to say only it was UPS. I’m sure he thinks I’m bluffing.

Well, I’m taking my time. I’m going to push on several avenues first since I feel that UPS business practices are questionable. I’m studying the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices act. I’m getting the damaged goods back here, something required by that law to be available for inspection. I also want to see if we can measure the case deflection and figure out what kind of force it would take to cause the damage it did.

But, in the meantime, I’m posting what happened to me here. I honestly feel that any consumer who uses UPS to ship anything needs to understand the extent of the risk they are taking. What do I mean by that? Simply this, taken from their own small print fron a UPS Store Shipping Order form. If you haven’t read one, consider that it tells you this: (italicized portions are quotes from the UPS Shipping Order form)

We assume no liability for the delivery of the parcels accepted for shipment or for loss or damage by any cause to the parcels or their contents while in transit…

We are not liable for carrier’s failure to make timely delivery on delivery date specified.
(This is talking about the UPS Store’s liability. Remember, you are not the shipper. The UPS Store is, so the contract is between the UPS Store and UPS, not you and UPS.)

For an additional fee we will obtain declared value coverage for your shipment through the carrier designated on this PSO or from an independent company. Please note that we surcharge the cost of this product. The declared value terms and conditions for the various carriers and any applicable independent company can be found in the carrier service guide (for coverage provided by the carrier) and are also available for review at this The UPS Store Center. Upon request, you may review such terms and conditions.
(This includes the packing requirements that meet “UPS standards”. Note that this is printed on the back of the form, not the front where you can readily see it.)

From the LIMITATIONS ON LIABILITY SECTION (also on the rear of the form):
Our liability, the carrier’s liability or any other declared value coverage provider’s liability to your package is limited to your actual damages or $100, whichever is less, unless you pay for and declare a higher authorized value. Provided you declare and pay for declared value coverage, the maximum recovery is limited to the value declared, repair cost, replacement costs, or fair market value, whichever is less…. (I really didn’t gave a problem with this. I just wanted the cost of the items it took to repair the PC. We didn’t even ask for labor, something a shop would have charged them.)

Declared value coverage is not available for items of sentimental value or items such as artwork, jewelry, statuaries, precious metals, furs, negotiable instruments, and certain other items such as very fragile items. (WHAT’S LEFT?)

Parcels packaged by you not meeting carrier’s packaging standards are not covered for damage during shipment. You acknowledge that packaging standards for Shock, Vibration, & Compression have been explained by us. (And here’s where they get you. They don’t tell you up front what their standards are and don’t explain what their standards are but have you sign a form saying they did. Again, this is on the back of the form, the side that 99% of the folks out there don’t look at before they put their signature on the line. This is truly a case of “buyer beware”. “Shipper beware”, in this case.)

Anybody see anything fair in this so far?

My whole family has been reacting negatively to this. None of them can believe that UPS has acted this way, and none of us will ever ship with UPS again. I’m contacting my vendors and influencing them to use FedEx or Airborne. To be fair, I’ll be researching those companies as well to see how they stack up to UPS in customer service. From what I’ve seen, I doubt if they can be any worse. I’m also going to ask the Attorney General’s office to look into a few things. I don’t believe UPS is doing what it needs to in order to ensure customers get what they pay for instead of getting ripped off.

Meanwhile, when you've got a few spare moments, do searches for "beware of UPS", "problems with UPS" and other search terms that might turn up problems with this company. I saw comments and many from retail shipping store owners that confirmed that UPS nearly always denies insurance claims if you packed it yourself. One person claimed that FedEx Ground was just as bad. Stay tuned...

Links for other sites discussing similar problems with UPS:

Consumer Damaged Shipments

United Package Smashers

Beware the UPS

Update: Feb 14, 2004

I got a rather strange call from the UPS Store yesterday. They said UPS corporate called and wanted the phone number for my son, the recipient of the damaged PC. The guy on the phone didn't know why corporate had called, though he initially said that he thought it might have something to do with helping them settle the claim. I told him I thought they had already denied the claim, to which I really didn't get a response. I gave them the number and then called my son and left a message for him lettting him know that UPS corporate was going to call.

Later that evening, he called me back. UPS had already called but he had been out . The mesage they left on his answering machine asked whether any pictures had been taken at the time of the inspection. It's not clear if they're asking if their photographer took any pictures (telling us they don't where they are) or whether they're asking if we took any pictures. I told him to feel free to refer them to the pictures on this page, though we have more we haven't posted.

The damaged PC is back here with me. I wanted it here for evidence if I did take this into court, and I'm using it to help me decide what kind of action I'm going to pursue.

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