What do you get when you cross a global pandemic that disrupts the world's freight and postal services with a massive rise in online shopping? The answer: a lot of lost and delayed packages.
If this has happened to you, don't panic. There are several things you may be able to do to get compensation (although your safest bet is to order what you need well, well in advance).
You may be eligible for compensation in certain circumstances.
Can I get a refund if my package is delayed?
It depends. According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), if a business has accepted payment for an item, it must supply it to you by the date you've indicated or within a reasonable timeframe (if no time was specified).
But because of the supply chain and delivery delays caused by COVID-19, 'a reasonable timeframe' is longer than usual these days.
Although businesses aren't obligated to give refunds just because the product you've bought is taking longer to arrive, you are eligible for compensation if they're no longer able to supply it at all.
Because of the supply chain and delivery delays caused by COVID-19, 'a reasonable timeframe' is longer than usual these days
You may also be eligible for compensation in certain circumstances.
"Australia Post and other providers will sometimes pay costs in limited circumstances," says a representative from the Commonwealth Ombudsman, who handles consumer complaints about some sectors of the postal industry – specifically Australia Post (including StarTrack), FedEx Australia (if the complaint refers to something that happened before April 2021), Cheque-Mates and D and D Mailing Services.
"For example, they may cover the cost of reissuing a passport required for urgent travel to replace one that cannot be located," says the representative.
How to make a complaint
Your first stop should be trying to resolve the issue with Australia Post or the courier company responsible for your package.
"Our advice to people experiencing a delay in delivery is first to complain to the provider," the Ombudsman says.
"If the provider doesn't give them a timely or satisfactory response, the consumer can contact the Office [of the Ombudsman] to make a complaint.
Our advice to people experiencing a delay in delivery is first to complain to the providerCommonwealth Ombudsman
"Eventually, a delayed item can be declared lost, at which point a consumer may be entitled to compensation under Australian Consumer Law or if they purchased additional cover."
Australia Post encourages its customers to contact them at auspost.com.au/help if they have any delivery concerns. In many cases, they will compensate for a lost item if its value is $100 or less. For anything more expensive, Australia Post recommends you take out extra cover before sending the package.
Contact the retailer
The ACCC also suggests you contact the business supplying the parcel you were supposed to receive, as a business has an obligation to supply the goods and services you've paid for.
Although the business itself isn't liable for the loss of a package if that loss is the fault of Australia Post or another courier, many businesses will be happy to work with their customers to come up with a satisfactory resolution.
Border closures and staff shortages have had an effect on deliveries.
Why are parcels so delayed at the moment?
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused all sorts of delays all over the country (and around the world).
Whether it's international and interstate border closures, shutdowns of postal and shipping facilities because of COVID exposures, or shortages of staffing due to isolation or other health requirements, all have had an effect on deliveries.
The stress to the system has become so acute that in early September, Australia Post paused all its services from e-commerce retailers in NSW, Victoria and the ACT in an effort to clear the backlog.
Rise and rise of online shopping
To complicate matters further, Australians are shopping online more than ever before. In fact in 2020 more than four in five Australian households (almost nine million in total) shopped online – a trend that continued to grow in 2021.
"Last December we delivered 52 million parcels, the biggest month in Australia Post's history," a spokesperson for Australia Post tells CHOICE. "That was surpassed in August this year and early indications are that this Christmas will be our biggest yet."
All carriers under stress
And it's not just Australia Post that's feeling the strain. Courier companies are also hampered by border closures and staff shortages caused by the pandemic.
On top of all that, some workers are going on strike in an effort to improve their working conditions. For instance, in late August, 7000 Toll employees walked off the job. Since then, workers at Star Track (owned by Australia Post) and FedEx have also taken strike action.
Will things improve before Christmas?
It seems unlikely. A lot will depend on NSW and Victoria staying on track for their respective COVID reopenings, as well as sentiment among individual companies and their workers.
Australia Post says it plans to hire an extra 5000 workers in the lead-up to the busy Christmas period and expand its weekend deliveries to new regions to cope with demand, which may ease some of the pressure.
The system is still likely to be fairly overburdened into the festive season
But, realistically, in light of the continuing pandemic and the resulting border closures and staff shortages, the system is still likely to be fairly overburdened into the festive season.
In short, ordering your Christmas presents early is probably a wise move.