Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Postmaster

Well, we've reached the one time of year that people might actually use the post office. Packages have been trickling in to my place fairly steadily for the last few weeks (3 avid ebayers, one who also is seemingly addicted to Amazon/Chapters). However, even though I'm not all that old, I can see how the role of the local post office and mail carrier has changed.

When I first move into my house I had the same guy bring the fast food advertising mail at the same time every day but it seems as though as of the last year or so there has been a rotating cast that delivers. I never did get to find out if my guy was this guy, but I don't think he was. I also don't think they try very hard to deliver parcels that require a signature - I always seem to end up with the little notice that tells me to pick it up tomorrow at my local postal outlet. Although as I discovered the other day, they are not a "real" post office because I couldn't do anything regarding my claim for damages to the contents of my package there. I also get a kick out of how you MUST produce ID - when I used to live at my dad's place in the country, and the Post Mistress knew exactly who I was, she wouldn't release things without ID. Or the time when my dad was out of the country and having his mail forwarded to my house in the city and they weren't going to let me pick up a piece of mail with his name on it at the post office, even though clearly he was fine with having all of his mail go to my house and my ID has my address on it.

Enter the new Postmaster, the border-town entrepreneur. Anyone who has ever ordered anything from the States online has dealt with this problem:
Image from here 

But once you read the fine print, that only applies for shipping within the US. If, and why on earth would you, you would like that package shipped to the country that sees something like 90% of their population live within an hour of the border, then you can expect to pay through the nose and then customs and brokerage fees on top of that. I remember one time where shipping would be free to the US but $69 to Canada! Never mind the fact that it seems to take about 3 weeks on average for a parcel to reach Winnipeg.

Just in Pembina, ND alone there are at least three places that will accept a parcel for you for a fee (generally $5 for smaller packages). I have been using Pembina Parcel Service for years (Mike's Parcel Pickup and Corner Bar Parcel Pickup are some of the newer players in the game). Hetty, who, bless her, seems like she should probably be living in a lovely sunny retirement community somewhere rather than running what is arguably a very flourishing business (they've just expanded). Since I've been using Hetty from back in the day when you used to pick up your parcel using the honour system - you opened the garage, took your parcel and put your $5 in the honour box! - I feel a sense of loyalty to her. Plus, she always seems to at least vaguely remember me which is a nice touch in a society where we're all just numbers. I've been tempted to use Menke's Parcel in nearby Neche, ND as his prices are better, especially for smaller packages but his hours are pretty limited.

A small drawback to these types of services is that they charge per package so if (and this seems to happen frequently with places like Amazon.com) the merchant decides to ship as product is available rather than all at once you might get dinged with multiple $5 fees. A couple of things that I have learned about online shopping that I feel worthy to pass on, as I have so little advice to bestow upon the world:
  • Always google the company and "promo code" or "coupon code". Often if they are not already offering free shipping or sale prices you can cut your cost quite a bit. I saved $50 on a pair of boots by doing this. No, I won't tell you how much the boots cost in the first place to be able to save that much; let's just say I think they're made from happy cows and sewn by virgin peasants or something, or at least they'd better be. Ultimately, in that case, as much as I would have liked to shop local, I saved over $110 by doing it my way vs. shopping at The Shoe Doctor.
  • If they will only allow you to pay with a credit card with a US address, change a less used card that you might have to online only statements and change your address to Pembina Parcel Service. I have a Visa that I only rarely use and almost always for that purpose. www.half.ebay.com is a great site for used books and music that only accepts US address - although beware of the "shipped from ML" as this means it may not all come in one shipment
  • Before you shop ANY online retailer see if they participate in either airmilesshops.ca or the aeroplan estore (as a bonus, I believe all of those stores listed ship to Canada, but I can't speak to the shipping differences that may exist). I've found that the ebay store will default to ebay Canada, so an item you were looking at may not show up in the search, simply save it in you watch list on ebay.com and then find it again when you sign in to ebay.ca via airmiles/aeroplan.
Some of you may think it's nuts to go all the way to the border just to pick up a package, but that really depends. First, no one said you had to make a special trip, work it into a weekend away and then, even better, you can make the purchases part of your duty free allowance. Second, in the case of the company trying to charge me $69 for shipping it was technically cheaper for me to take time off work and spend the gas money to go and get it, plus it meant getting it much faster (I didn't actually have to take time off, I just did it when I would have been doing some other random thing with my time).

Oh, and on the off chance you do have a regular mail carrier or newspaper carrier, don't forget that a card with a Timmies gift card or something is much appreciated.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a kindred spirit, do alot of my shopping in the US and ship to Menke's or my PO box in Neche.
    A suggestion for some of the truly US online shops. (US only credit card) Bremer bank. Their check card has worked everywhere I've tried so far and is the closest to a true US credit card that I've been able to find. (and lets you setup a US paypal account for those few ebay auctions that only take US $$)