PO box and street address necessary
The post office has handled 50-pound bags of dog food, microwave ovens, and a propane fire pit — things you once wouldn’t have expected to have delivered because they’re so big and bulky, Twisp Officer-in-Charge Joan Morgan said.
But in recent years, changes in how — and where — people shop are having unintended consequences for post office employees and mail carriers, who now process significant numbers of packages every day. And the intricacies of shipping and addressing mean that some packages are returned to the sender because they can’t be delivered, according to staff at the Twisp and Winthrop post offices.
Winthrop Postmaster Louise Bighouse gestured to a 7-foot stack of boxes in the back of the post office, just half of a single day’s delivery from Amazon. “The pallets are taller than me, with big boxes marked ‘Heavy’ on top of the pile,” Bighouse said.
Even half of the day’s delivery was considerably more than would fit in a mail carrier’s vehicle. And that’s in addition to five containers of regular mail and packages the U.S. Postal Service handles for carriers like UPS, Bighouse said.
In Twisp, huge semi trucks drop off Amazon packages in the back lot every day, Morgan said. The postal service wasn’t designed for large parcels — it was set up to handle letters, flat envelopes and small packages, she said.
Postmasters in Twisp and Winthrop have devised strategies to help people get the items they’ve ordered, but the workarounds require people to follow specific guidelines when they fill out shipping information for online orders.
Twisp town residents and some Winthrop residents don’t get home delivery and must have a post office box instead. But many of the common online ordering platforms require a physical address, and the order won’t go through if you enter a post office box, Morgan said.
Then again, Twisp residents who fill out the form with only a street address won’t get their package, because federal regulations prevent postal workers from leaving a package at someone’s house if that person doesn’t have mail delivery, Morgan said. And postal workers can’t put a notification about the package in a post office box when they don’t know the box number.
Several Twisp residents said that packages had been returned to the sender without being delivered. Post office regulations require undeliverable packages to be sent back on the same day, Morgan said. If there’s an acceptable address, the post office keeps the package for 15 days after attempting delivery or notifying the customer about a package.
It’s the responsibility of customers to track shipments so they know when and where to pick them up — the post office can’t provide notice when employees don’t know where the package goes, Bighouse said.
In the past, post office staff tried to be accommodating and left notes in boxes when they knew the customers and could match up box numbers. But looking up an address takes several minutes, and there just isn’t time, since Twisp handles 65 to 80 undeliverable packages a day, Morgan said.
The Twisp post office is now asking people to include their post office box number on the same line as their name when they enter shipping information: for example, John Doe — 123.
In Winthrop, postal employees are also trying to educate customers. The best way to get all mail and packages, whether shipped by the postal service, UPS or FedEx, is to put the post office box number and physical address on all packages, Bighouse said. That way, every shipper knows where it goes, she said.
People can also use the address of their local post office, followed by their post office box number, U.S. Postal Service Strategic Communications Specialist Kim Frum said.
Morgan said she’d heard that there was a change in Amazon’s contract with UPS earlier this year. UPS declined to provide details. “Amazon is a valued customer, but we don’t discuss specifics of the services we provide,” UPS Communications Manager Matt Skeen told the Methow Valley News by email. Amazon didn’t respond to requests for information by press time.
The postal service also doesn’t provide details about arrangements with shipping companies. “Like any prudent business, we do not publicly discuss specifics of our business relationships or contracts,” Frum said.
When people buy items online, they don’t typically know how their purchases will be delivered. Depending on the arrangement, some delivery services take packages as far as the post office and use the postal service’s last-mile service to get the package to its final destination.
UPS suggests that customers always include a phone number. “UPS will only ship to a valid street address, and we do not deliver to P.O. boxes. If a shipper uses a P.O. Box address, the recipient’s phone number must be included on the label,” Skeen said.
UPS offers free services that enable consumers to receive their deliveries where and when they want, to provide instructions for where a delivery should be left, and to get alerts when packages are on the way, Skeen said.
Over the past three years, the postal service has been adding staff and converting others to full-time positions as part of its Delivering for America initiative, Frum said. Since 2021, the postal service has installed 348 new package-processing machines across the country, expanding the number of packages processed to 70 million per day — an almost three-fold increase, she said.
The postal service has an obligation to deliver to nearly 165 million addresses across the country, far exceeding the reach of any shipping company, Frum said.
“This situation isn’t new, but it’s becoming more critical because people are ordering so much stuff online,” Bighouse said.
With Amazon delivering packages directly to the post office, “it’s our hope to help people understand how to address their packages and not have packages sent back,” Morgan said.