UPS: We only pay for parts

2006-08-24 13:01

This may be of some interest to folks who are inclined to ship things that have actual value.

I recently shipped a $2,400 computer via UPS. It got busted.

Round 1: UPS refuses to pay for anything on the grounds that “the package isn’t damaged”.

To put this in perspective, this is a double-boxed computer. One corner of the box is crumpled to a depth of about two inches; that means we’re looking at crushing eight layers of cardboard (both sides and two lids, for each of the two boxes) plus the extra-stiff packing foam in that corner. They claim this isn’t damage.

Fussing ensues. They agree that maybe they could pay something.

Round 2: UPS will pay the replacement price of the parts — not labor. (Also, presumably, not the cost of getting the parts shipped, just their line item values.)

Now, this might sound initially reasonable, if you don’t do much with computers. Why should they pay for labor? Indeed. Why should they? “Mr. Smith, while we are very sorry that the painting was destroyed en route to your gallery, we cannot pay this claim; we need line items for the paint and canvas, which we will reimburse you for. We estimate this picture to have components worth about $50.” “While it is true that you insured this antique furniture for two thousand dollars, we are sending you instead the cost of a few pounds of lumber.”

The problem here is that reductionism is not a good philosophical approach to consumer products. Imagine being someone who doesn’t build computers professionally, and shipping a $700 computer you bought at a retail store. The computer shows up broken, and UPS offers to pay you $300 for replacements for specific parts. They will not replace the software bundle (writing software is “labor”), nor will they provide any assistance with getting the alleged replacement parts, or installing them.

This is, how you say, a bad policy. I am not real fond of FedEx in some other ways; for instance, about two years after I left my last job, they started sending marketing junk to the address I had on file. But that could be a legitimate mistake… And when I filed a claim with FedEx on a $3,000 computer, they paid $3,000. (They even let me have the destroyed remains, because obviously, they have no need for them.) UPS is offering to pay $1,700 for the parts, excluding the hard drives (which Seagate repaired), and wants everything else back. Presumably, they will complain if I don’t carefully disassemble all the parts to produce something closer to the abstract collection of parts they seem to think is under discussion.

So, based on this: If you ship anything which might have a component value higher than the sum of the values of its components, don’t use UPS. If they change their minds, I’ll post an update. Just be glad they don’t know that silicon is a fancy name for “sand”, or they’d be sending me $0.25 per chip for the Opteron processors, on the grounds that converting raw sand into functioning chips is “labor”.

Edited to add, September 13th: UPS finally paid the full claim, as though none of this ever happened.

Peter Seebach

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