FedEx fail: How a typo nearly lost my Canon EOS R5 review unit

A transpositional error turned an overnight delivery into a week-long tragedy of logistics.

by | Jul 30, 2020 | Gear

It’s a small miracle that my Canon EOS R5 review published today at Digital Trends. Overall, I would say I was impressed with the camera. What I was much less impressed with was the byzantine process by which my review unit got to me — and I’m pretty sure my local FedEx carrier hates me now.

So no, this is not the story of my experience reviewing the Canon EOS R5 — and its dreadfully uninspired product photos — but rather a tale of a FedEx fiasco so grand that I myself have trouble believing it. As bewildering as it be, I assure you, dear reader, that I have not truncated the truth nor varied the veracity of this exhausting epic — except in ways that make it sound much more intriguing than it actually was.

Illogical logistics

The trouble teed off with a transpositional typo, discovered upon the days-delayed delivery of the package. Zeroing in on the ZIP code, I saw a zero had swapped spots with a seven, sending the box sideways to Salem instead of head-on to Hood River. (I promise I alleviate the alliteration in awhile, although not abruptly.)

I had known something was amiss when the tracking didn’t track. The package had flown to Portland from Newport News via Memphis, slipping to Salem not one day after dispatch. But it didn’t make sense for an eastbound parcel from Portland to first ship south to Salem. I phoned FedEx on Friday — the day the  package was scheduled to arrive — and a representative confirmed the erroneous address. He could forward the package to me by Monday, he said.

Unfortunately, I was to leave the state for several days on Sunday, so I asked FedEx to hold the package at my local station so I could pick it up when I got back. I had planned on shooting the camera over my trip, but oh well. I was a little confused because the support reps tend to speak rather nebulously, but by the end of the call, I thought things were squared away.

A couple of hours later, I called back, realizing that it was better to just drive to Salem Saturday to pick up the package (it was too late to make it there before closing on Friday). It would mean four hours of driving the day before a 10-hour drive on the same route, but again — oh well.

The rep I spoke with seemed to think that would be fine, but as he looked into it (which always takes an inexplicably long time, by the way) he realized it would, in fact, not be fine. The package, he explained, was already “out for delivery” and could not be rerouted.

What did that mean? Surely it was not out for delivery to my address, as they previously told me that Monday was the earliest it could get here. The tracking had not been updated to indicate the box had left Salem. I tracked the package again Saturday morning and couldn’t believe my eyes. FedEx had overnighted it back to Memphis.

And by Saturday night? Well, it was back in Portland. There is no world in which this makes any sense. Just look at this nonsense.

Screenshot of FedEx package tracking showing how the package shipped from Memphis to Portland, then back to Memphis, then to Portland again.

This is the type of tomfoolery that happens when your Tom is a computer program and all the peripheral humans just do what it tells them. It’s why a package was diverted to the wrong city because two digits got switched in the ZIP code. The person making the shipping label (not a FedEx employee, to be clear) should have humanly verified that the word Salem does not equal the words Hood River, which were written plainly in the email sitting before their face (along with, yes, the correct ZIP code). “Hmm, maybe I entered the ZIP wrong?” said person could have asked. “Oh, look, I did!” said person could have realized.

But whatever. Mistakes happen. It may have taken a spurious excursion to Memphis first — just to throw off anyone who might be tailing it, I’m sure — but the package was finally back on course.

On Monday, however, I was alerted that a delivery attempt had been made, even though I had expressly asked for the package to be held, knowing that I would be, and now was, out of town. (This delivery required a direct signature, which means the carrier couldn’t leave it at my door.)

And thus begins the strenuous second act.

Senseless support systems

This might come as a surprise, but actually getting a FedEx customer service representative on the phone is fairly easy. Dial 1-800-GO-FEDEX, tell the robot your tracking number, then say “speak to a representative.” Over the course of the inane experience trying to get my Canon EOS R5, I called customer support no less than five times, and not once did I wait on hold for more than a minute, despite the automated warning about high call volumes. 

That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, what is clearly not fairly easy is for that FedEx support rep to get in contact with anyone else inside the organization. There’s a reason I called no less than five times, after all. (It was, in fact, exactly five times.)

Now, missing a delivery is surely not an uncommon occurrence. It might happen while you’re at work or away on vacation, and FedEx has a system in place to account for this. From the package tracking website, you can click “manage delivery” which gives you the option to place a “vacation hold.” Perfect.

Except this doesn’t work for me. You see, I live at what is called a “commercial address,” as opposed to a residential one. In addition to not being able to use the automated USPS address change system when I move, and likely not getting a visit from the sheriff in the event of a city-wide evacuation, my commercial address means that, for unstated reasons, I cannot use FedEx’s vacation hold feature. In fact, I can’t even register for an account in its package management system. This is why I had to use phone support in my attempts to first reroute, then hold, and finally delay delivery of my Canon EOS R5 review unit.

After the first failed delivery on Monday, I immediately called to clarify that I would be out of town until Friday, and requested (again) that the package be held until then. I knew FedEx would otherwise return it to sender some time after three failed delivery attempts. I also didn’t want the carrier to have to walk up my stairs three days in a row for no reason. I honestly feel for these people, who are working very hard to make sure your scheduled Omega-3 supplements from Amazon continue to arrive on time during the pandemic.

Anyway, that should have been the end of the story. But then, on Wednesday, I got an alert that a “final delivery attempt” had been made. (But wait, you ask, what about Tuesday? Well, I also got an alert for Tuesday’s failed attempt, but I was staying in a cabin in the woods without cell service — very much social distancing — so I didn’t see that alert until Wednesday.)

Screenshot of FedEx package tracking showing three failed deliveries. An annotation reads, "Driver fruitlessly walks up stairs."

So on Thursday morning, I called FedEx again. I explained the situation again. The rep looked into it and noticed that there was an “open case” for the package, whatever the heck that means. He did confirm that my request to change the delivery date to Friday had been logged, but that was all he could do. He then offered to transfer me to the person in charge of my case — like, what is this, a criminal investigation? Just tell the computer to tell the local station to deliver on Friday, end of story. Case closed.

Anyway, he did transfer me, and — of course — I got the case manager’s voicemail. As I was about to depart on the 10-hour return drive home, I declined to leave a message. The request was logged, the case was open; maybe for some reason the local station just wouldn’t be alerted until the day of delivery. My poor carrier had already climbed my stairs three times, so nothing I could do now would alleviate his trouble.

I should mention here that the 1-800 number is the only way to get in touch with FedEx. It does not publish the local numbers of any of its stations, so it was impossible for me to call Hood River directly and explain the situation. This would have made things infinitely easier, but I understand the company’s desire to route all customer service calls through a centralized system, as most customers — those with residential addresses — can solve their problems easily using the automated prompts.

Friday eventually rolls around and, now back home in my commercial apartment, I immediately track the package to look for an update. Nothing. So I call FedEx yet again and get transferred to my case manager yet again, who — thank the gods or Darwin or whoever you believe in — picked up the phone. I explained the situation, how the package had been sent to the wrong location, how I called and asked for it to be held, how the local station had clearly not gotten the memo, and how I was finally home now and could accept delivery of the package.

“Oh, I’ll just tell the local station to deliver it today,” she said, as if it was no big deal at all. As if this wasn’t the fifth time I’d called. As if a post-middle-aged man hadn’t climbed a flight of exterior stairs in 90-degree heat three days in a row in a series of futile attempts to deliver it already.

And, bless him, he would do it one last time.

Almost immediately after hanging up, I received a text alert that the package was out for delivery. When I heard a knock a couple of hours later, I rushed to my door and swung it open. The box, corners tattered, an address correction written in black and red Sharpie, sat on my doormat. The FedEx carrier was already halfway down the staircase.

“Thank you!” I called as genuinely as I could. He did not pause, did not look back, did not acknowledge me in any way.

After a week of frustration, I wanted him to know it wasn’t my fault, that he and I were both victims, that I had tried my very best to prevent this exact scenario, and he shouldn’t be mad at me. Be mad at the system, bro. Be mad at commercial address limitations and case managers who forget to tell you what’s up. Be mad at the fact that I had no way to contact you directly.

But I remained silent. I knew he didn’t need excuses. But it still peeved me that he thought any of this was my error. And as if that wasn’t enough, the automated tracking alert system, now aware that the delivery had succeeded, had to throw some icing on the cake — an icing made of shade.

Screenshot of FedEx text message with highlighted text, "Next time, take control and manage your delivery."

I know it’s a stupid computer named Tom, but this was an insult too egregious to ignore. I scavenged the support site for an email address so I could shoot off some hotly-worded constructive criticism, but I couldn’t find one. I thought of calling the support center again, but for what? So an underpaid representative could be berated for something completely out of their control? Or maybe somebody could “open a case” for me again. Yay.

At this point, the only case I wanted to open was a case of cold ones. (Oooh, dang, if that isn’t some fine writing, right there!) I contented myself to pen this blog post you now read (or maybe stopped reading 34 paragraphs ago) instead of taking any actual steps to change the system. After all, the real system that needs changing is the one built on racism and police brutality — you can buy a print from me to support this very cause — not the one preventing people living at commercial addresses from “taking control” of their FedEx deliveries.

In conclusion, I apologize that this post was only tangentially related to photography by way of what the package contained — a Canon EOS R5 review unit (come on, keyword density!) — but this blog is the sole outlet for my personal written creative endeavors, and I just had to write this story down.

I’m not sure it was worth 2,000 words, but what the heck else was I supposed to do on this beautiful, sunny Saturday?*

*Yes, I wrote this a few days ago, but withheld publishing until I’d written my Canon EOS R5 review, so I could shamelessly link to it.

1 Comment

  1. ElizabetH

    I believe FedEx has a package that was supposed to be delivered 2 weeks ago but for a label they put on that didn’t stay on. I have asked nicely, I have set up a trace case and, when that didn’t work, I asked to escalate the matter. All to no avail so far. Monday I will enlist the support of the company that sent it to me.

    Reply

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