The Life & Travels of an Alaska-Bound Parcel

For all those parcels out there experiencing wanderlust, a destination address in Alaska will be a dream come true.

We knew that moving to Alaska would translate to more costly shipping, and it would take a bit longer for things to reach us. We also knew that some companies flat out won’t ship to us up here. But experiencing it first hand has been unexpectedly fascinating.

A rule of thumb when receiving packages in Alaska: if you manage to actually qualify for free shipping from a company, any short term shipping commitments (2 day/3 day/etc) aren’t going to be valid. There was the Carter’s order I placed this fall that qualified for free two day shipping. It was clearly stated in the shipping policy that, as an Alaskan resident, I wouldn’t be receiving it in two days. Totally fine. I was happy to have gotten free shipping period. I received my shipping confirmation email, and a few days later clicked on the tracking link to check the status. The order originated in Georgia, had made its way to Hawaii, and was currently in Guam. Yes, Guam. Say what? After that it made its way up to Anchorage and eventually down to Homer. When it was all said and done, it took about two weeks for that one to arrive. Those baby clothes put on some miles!

shp 2

At the end of November, I placed an order with Jo-Ann’s for fabric I need to make a few blankets and a quilt for Baby B. My order qualified for $3.95 shipping. Score! I neglected to read the fine print that stated any order with fabric by the yard can take up to five business days to actually ship out. They must have been a bit swamped from the post-Thanksgiving orders, because I didn’t receive a shipping confirmation until December 10th on that one. When I clicked on the tracking link, I saw it was making its way north via FedEx Smart Post, and that it would be delivered by end of the day on 12/31/15. Yikes! I sure hope Baby B doesn’t decide to show up early, because I won’t have much time to get these projects done. Looks like I’ll be burning the midnight oil come January. So far, that package has made the following stops:

joann-order

  1. Originated in Belleville, MI
  2. Chicago, IL
  3. New Berlin, WI
  4. Grand Island, NE
  5. Rawlins, WY
  6. Glenns Ferry, ID
  7. Hermiston, OR
  8. Portland, OR
  9. …and is currently in Kent, WA (getting closer! Although I suspect it may get loaded on a boat from here, so that doesn’t bode well in the speed department.)

How many more stops can we squeeze in between Kent, WA & Homer, AK? We shall see! This was a good lesson for me that I need to either a) pay for expedited shipping (ouch!) or b) give myself several extra weeks of buffer for time-sensitive orders. Of course, I’m still crossing my fingers that it will show up a bit earlier than 12/31.

Not every order takes so long, though. A second order from Carter’s/OshKosh that qualified for free shipping arrived in under a week, and an order from Hancock Fabric I placed the same evening as the Jo-Ann’s order (and also qualified for free shipping) arrived a few days ago. It’s unpredictable, to say the least.

Amazon is also a whole new ballgame up here. We are Prime members, which is a bit different for Alaskans. We can get free shipping on our Prime eligible orders, but we don’t get free 2-day shipping. Again, this is fine. We completely understand just how far away we are up here, and realize it’s expensive to ship things that distance. The most frustrating thing is that not only does the shipping time take longer, it also takes Amazon 3-5 days minimum to even ship the order in the first place. We’ve learned that expedited order fulfillment at Amazon is tied to the expedited shipping option, not a Prime membership.When we lived in Minnesota, our Prime orders all shipped within 24 hours, so it didn’t cross our minds that our orders would sit for so long before leaving the warehouse. Considering we pay for Prime, we aren’t thrilled to have this additional processing time tacked on to the already extended shipping time.

Amazon.com provides an estimate that standard, non-expedited orders to Alaska, Hawaii, & Puerto Rico take 3-7 business days.

amazon-shipping-times

Based on our experience, that’s overly optimistic. Our most recent order has been a real head scratcher. It shipped via Parcel Pool, and the tracking info provided by Amazon says it’s spent the last six days sitting in Anchorage waiting for its ride down to Homer. The expected delivery date on that package was two days ago; who knows when it will actually arrive. Papa B was quite frustrated as he’s been waiting for this package, so he started trying to figure out what the hold up is. I think the map sums it up nicely.

parcelpool-path

That’s right. It started in Breinigsville, PA before making its way up to Anchorage, and then the USPS decided it needed a few more frequent flier miles before the New Year, and sent it on a quick trip to sunny California. The amusing part (you have to laugh at this stuff) is that Amazon, Parcel Pool, and the USPS all have different levels of information. Amazon thinks its in Anchorage. Parcel Pool sees the scans in San Francisco, but has no status code for those scans and their overall status for the package is: Unknown. USPS has no idea that it started in PA, but freely admits that it’s been in their hands and their facilities since originally arriving in Anchorage 6 days ago. At least we now know why it hasn’t made it to Homer yet….and probably won’t for another several days.

We’re far from the only Alaskan Amazon Prime members to experience this; there was quite the comment chain happening on a local Facebook page about this issue recently. It does make us re-evaluate whether or not it’s worth it to pay for Prime, though. The only benefit of Prime for us at this point is no minimum order of $35. Given the rate at which we purchase things from Amazon, combining an occasional small order with another to get over $35 isn’t likely to be that big of a deal. (The video streaming services aren’t a real selling point for us since, although we do have high speed internet, it’s capped each month and overage charges are significant. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are services we enjoy with much more moderation these days.)

But ultimately, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Since we’re on the road system and are a moderately-sized Alaskan town, we have reliable USPS service (…once it gets here…).Not every Alaskan can say the same. There have been several news stories recently about residents of smaller towns having their USPS shipments disappear, or it taking months for them to receive their mail. We have FedEx & UPS right here in town. Standard shipping through either of those carriers or through USPS Priority Mail or First Class mail is typically 3-5 days, just like it was for most ground shipping to us back in Minnesota. We also have the option to get overnight shipping to Homer (although I can’t fathom actually forking over the money for that).  That’s not even an option for many parts of the state. And although we can find a surprisingly large variety of goods available to us locally, we are very much appreciative of the exponentially larger options available to us via Amazon and any other companies willing to ship to Alaska. More than anything, it’s been a learning experience.

3 thoughts on “The Life & Travels of an Alaska-Bound Parcel

  1. I LURVE Homer, we spent last winter there at Alaska Bible Institue (ABI) (we live in Scotland), made the most amazing friends and wanted to send them some Christmas goodies… my parcel from amazon is apparently lost in anchorage parcel pool! 🙁 Thumbs up for Homer, thumbs down for postal service 🙁

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