Well, they do sometimes but not very often. Left turns cross traffic, which wastes time and causes accidents. So UPS routes are designed with mostly right turns...three rights make a left, you know.
UPS engineers found that left-hand turns were a major drag on efficiency. Turning against traffic resulted in long waits in left-hand turn lanes that wasted time and fuel, and it also led to a disproportionate number of accidents. By mapping out routes that involved "a series of right-hand loops," UPS improved profits and safety while touting their catchy, environmentally friendly policy.
I wonder though, does this make the drivers unhappy?
Back in April, I pre-ordered Harry Potter 7 from Amazon. They guaranteed delivery on its release date, Saturday July 21 before 7pm or they would refund the cost of the book...the details of that offer are here. All day Saturday until shortly after 7pm, the UPS tracking information indicated that the package containing my copy of the book was "IN TRANSIT TO FINAL DESTINATION", which is UPS-speak for "the UPS guy/gal who will deliver your book does not yet have it in his/her possession"...the magic phrase for that action is "OUT FOR DELIVERY".
At some point after 7pm, the UPS status page updated to say that a notice was left at 3:36 pm, implying that a delivery attempt was made and no one was home to receive it. (Amazon's tracking page says that UPS told them "Delivery attempted - recipient not home".) No such notice was left. My door buzzer did not ring at 3:36 pm (I was home all day on Saturday) and the doorman of the building next door who takes the deliveries for our building when people aren't home reported no notice or delivery attempt. Here's the complete tracking info from UPS:
Location // Date // Local Time // Description
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/21/2007 // 3:36 P.M. // NOTICE LEFT
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/20/2007 // 12:00 P.M. // IN TRANSIT TO FINAL DESTINATION
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/19/2007 // 4:51 P.M. // DESTINATION SCAN
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/19/2007 // 4:50 P.M. // ORIGIN SCAN
US // 07/19/2007 // 1:34 P.M. // BILLING INFORMATION RECEIVED
Maybe I'm lying about being home or maybe the person trying to deliver the package made an honest mistake, but it's curious that a delivery attempt could have been made when the package was not even "OUT FOR DELIVERY". Here's what I think happened. I think UPS's network was overwhelmed by Amazon's Potter-volume in some parts of the country and they had no way to deliver all those packages. (The forums for the book at Amazon and Google Blog Search are full of similar complaints from others...warning, spoilers! UPS even offloaded some of the volume to the USPS for "last-mile" delivery.) So, UPS just marked all of those packages they had no intention of delivering as "oops, we missed you, you must have been out".
Let's go back to Amazon's guarantee, which states that the refund "does not apply if delivery is attempted, but no one is available to accept the package". Amazon would be pretty angry with UPS if they cost them a bunch of money due to refunds and, more importantly, the loss of a bunch of customer goodwill...maybe Amazon would switch a larger portion of their formidable package output to another carrier, for instance. So UPS intentionally misclassifying those deliveries covers their ass with Amazon and covers Amazon's ass with regard to the refund.
My copy of the book from Amazon will be here sometime today (UPS doesn't deliver on Sunday), by which time I'll already have mostly finished the copy I bought at Barnes & Noble about 7:30 pm Saturday evening. The extra $20 isn't a big deal to me and neither is having to wait all day to start in on the book. But this book was a *huge* deal for Amazon (2+ million pre-orders out of a first printing of 12 million) and for their customers who desired their instant Potter gratification. Amazon should be hopping mad at UPS over this; UPS shifted the blame from themselves to Amazon's customers...who are in turn going to blame Amazon, doubly so because Amazon
probably won't might not issue refunds for those "missed" deliveries because they don't need to. A customer service-oriented company like Amazon shouldn't take this kind of crap from their shipping vendor...incidents like these will erode customer goodwill and eventually their customer base, the retention of which is one of Amazon's stated primary goals.
Update: I've asked Amazon for a refund and am waiting on their reply. From the emails I've gotten from readers so far, it sounds like Amazon is being liberal in the refund policy, as one would expect.
Update: No word from Amazon yet, but the USPS (not UPS) delivered my book Monday morning. It had a UPS sticker on it with instructions to the Post Office to deliver it to me. No update on the UPS tracking page that its been delivered. I'm tempted to leave it unopened in its custom Amazon box as a collector's item. Maybe I can get JK Rowling and Jeff Bezos to sign it.
Update: Amazon issued me a refund for the book.
I really like those UPS whiteboard commercials. Turns out the actor is the creative director for the campaign, Errol Morris directed them, and the music in the ads is by The Postal Service.
This may just be the Nyquil hangover talking, but I've an idea. UPS, FedEx, USPS, and DHL should offer in-transit upgrades for package shipping. I'm having something shipped and I realize that I would like it to arrive sooner than it is scheduled for. With computerized systems, they know exactly where that package is in their shipping system...it seems simple in theory to pluck it from its current route and get it going faster. The upgrade would probably come at premium price and not be a true upgrade in some cases, but it would be a useful (and potentially lucrative) feature.
 It's possible that this is already possible. In the grand tradition of weblogs, no real research has been done.
 If you're two days into waiting for a 5-7 day ground shipment from UPS and want it the next day, it may take a bit to get it from a semi in the middle of Montana onto a plane to Miami, i.e. not truly next-day.