In a year that keeps throwing unexpected curveballs, another complicated challenge for the toy industry is gaining steam ahead of the important holiday season: a mail slowdown.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy assumed his role on June 16 and almost immediately began implementing changes throughout the United States Postal Service (USPS). The appointment itself was controversial due to DeJoy’s lack of USPS experience and his ties to President Donald J. Trump amid concerns over mail-in voting for the November elections. The rapid changes included reduced hours, fewer mail carrier trips, removal of mail sorting machines, and getting rid of the familiar blue mailboxes from some locations. The quick implementation sounded the alarm from the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) with fear that the USPS, which had already been battered by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic following years of financial losses, could ultimately collapse.
“We will unite with the people of the country to defend their right to ‘prompt’ and ‘reliable’ service and the universal service mandate that ensures equal service to everyone — all 160 million addresses every day,” the APWU said in a statement issued on July 20.
In August, DeJoy began to concede that the changes had, in fact, led to a slowdown and hiccups in mail service, following reports that essential deliveries, such as prescription drugs and perishable goods, had been severely delayed to many customers. The Los Angeles Times reported that some postal facilities were in a state of “chaos” with “wall-to-wall” mail and trucks of unprocessed items waiting to be dealt with outside.
“Several ASTRA members have shared stories of challenges with USPS deliveries,” says Sue Warfield, interim president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA). “This, of course, costs our members time and money to track down, and in some cases, replace lost or delayed products.”
When asked to comment on what measures were being put in place to ensure the stability of USPS services during the holiday season, a USPS representative deferred to an Aug. 18 statement by DeJoy in which he essentially hit the pause button on the earlier changes and outlined plans for the fall surge in shipments.
“We will engage standby resources in all areas of our operations, including transportation, to satisfy any unforeseen demand,” DeJoy said in the statement.
For the toy industry, USPS plays a role for manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and consumers. Traditionally, shipping rates can be cheaper than competitors such as FedEx and UPS, which makes USPS a popular choice for smaller companies with smaller budgets.
“Politics aside, the slowdown in the mail has put yet another roadblock up for small businesses trying to recover,” says Sari Wiaz, president of Wize Choice Creations and creator of Baby Paper. Wiaz sent letters to state representatives in Illinois and to DeJoy regarding the issue and she says that at the state level, the response was that they’re “working on it.”
“Small business owners rely on services like the USPS to keep business moving and have fewer resources to deal with these ‘hiccups,’” Warfield adds. “This is critically important now during these challenging times when online sales are so important for ASTRA retailers.”
In late August, DeJoy was called to testify in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Internal USPS data presented by the House showed a steep decline in on-time delivery beginning immediately when DeJoy took office. A follow-up statement issued by the Committee said that “DeJoy admits that mail delays are far worse than expected, but fails to take responsibility.”
Soon, officials from coast to coast began expressing that the promises of policy reversal weren’t happening quickly enough. On Sept. 3, Senator Tammy Baldwin held a press conference near Milwaukee to demand immediate action. On the same date, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called for immediate reversal.
During the August hearing, Committee Vice Chairman Jimmy Gomez asked Dejoy to explain how it is possible that days worth of mail delays had turned into weeks for some customers.
“I’m trying to figure that out,” Dejoy said in his testimony.
Let’s hope that the USPS does figure it out before delays become empty shelves and lost sales while gifts from Grandma and Grandpa arrive after the holidays.
This article was originally published in the October 2020 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!