Shipping Costs for the Wired World

Posted on February 26, 2003

Piggy BankMost of us who have been to the post office in recent memory, know that we are being wildly overcharged for shipping from mail order companies. The post office will ship via (3 day) priority mail a package of up to 3 pounds for under $5. So why does it cost a consumer $10 to have a mail order company strap a package to a slow, 3 legged camel and slap it on the ass?

My recent experience with Amazon may shed some light.

I was doing a bit of tinkering with my computer network set-up at home and I needed a few ethernet cables. Knowing that Office Depot wants an arm and a leg for such things, I figured I would save a couple bucks and order online. I went to Amazon and found seven foot long cables for around $3.99. Fair enough. I ordered four cables in different colors (so that it’s easier to figure out what’s connected to what) The cables are about 3 ounces each and all 4 cables could fit comfortably in a medium size padded envelope.

When I proceeded to check out with my order I was annoyed to see a shipping charge of $9 for the order. Still cheaper than a road trip to Office Depot, so I went ahead with the order.

About 4 days later, UPS shows up at my door with two boxes. The first box is a standard Amazon 12 inch by 9 inch by 5 inch box. The second box is big enough to fit a 1980’s VCR (roughly 17 inch by 14 inch by 6 inches). “What a bunch of moron’s,” I think to myself. “They couldn’t fit all four cables in one box?”

When I opened the boxes I got even more disgusted. Each box contained 1 cable. Not only was this only half of my order, I now had enough packing peanuts to contribute significantly to the toxic death of the planet. Checking with UPS shows that one package shipped from Addison, IL and the other shipped from Memphis, TN. The larger package came from Tennessee and we will not speculate on the possible issues this indicates for people from Memphis, Tennessee.

The third package is coming from Harrisburg, PA. As there are two cables in this order, I expect a package roughly the size of a Buick to hit my doorstep some time today.

The truly sad part is that Amazon doesn’t actually stock things like ethernet cables. They sub-contract with a company to handle small electronics orders. That company is, of course, Office Depot.