June 20, 2012

Mail Delivery South African Style

You know me. I always moan about the absence of Amazon.com from my life here in South Africa and all the convenience I'm missing out on by not being able to order anything the heart desires with a simple click of the mouse. I've even told you about the nebulous cloak-and-dagger merchandise exchanges I engage in to score those coveted goods from the U.S. every once in a while.

If only I had Amazon here, all my troubles would be over, is what I've been telling you.

But I'm not being entirely truthful. Because even if Amazon existed, there is the small matter of the delivery part of online shopping. 

In fact, something similar to Amazon does exist here in South Africa, and it's called Kalahari.com. Get it? Amazon is a rainforest in South America, and Kalahari is a desert in Africa. I can't say I quite see the connection, but I'm sure someone thought that one through.

The problem with Kalahari.com is that the selection is nowhere near that of Amazon.com, and that the prices are nowhere near as competitive. It's basically just for buying books and a few movies, and I prefer to buy the former via Kindle and get the latter for free via my newest cool discovery, UnoTelly.

However, some weeks ago I needed a school book for Zax that wasn't available on the Kindle. Macbeth, if you must know, in some ancient edition. So I decided to give Kalahari a try, where miraculously that very edition was available. Used, from some obscure seller.

Ordering couldn't have been any easier. A few clicks, and for R80 or something similar it was mine. After that, I promptly forgot about it. As I should be entitled to, right?

But not in South Africa. By now I should know better about these things and schedule multiple reminders in my calendar. Just because you ordered it doesn’t mean you get it. Back in the U.S., the book would have arrived on my doorstep a few days later, and that would have been the end of it.

And here? About three weeks later, Zax asked again about his book. Which made me remember that I had ordered it, and even gotten a confirmation via email, complete with a link to track the shipment, to my surprise. My package, I was informed when I clicked on it, had been delivered to my post office at Dainfern North over two weeks previously. Except no one had bothered to inform me, a fact that I didn't hesitate to point out to the postal clerk when I inquired about my package.

Or had they? I've told you that our houses don't have mailboxes. Which you can't really blame on the South African Post Office (SAPO), but rather on the nature of our security estates. No one gets in easily, and certainly not the mailman. Although come to think of it, the people from Eskom who came to turn off my power always got in just fine. Anyway, over the course of living here I have gotten a bit lazy about checking our mailbox in our neighborhood shopping center, as there is never really anything exciting in it beyond a couple of flyers and, oddly, the pest control bill.

Since no package was forthcoming when I asked about it at the post office, I left again and went over to our mailbox to look for a slip there. But, as expected, there was nothing in it. So I drove back home, making a mental note to check the tracking tool again, print out the number, and take it by the post office the next time I was there. Which, as mental notes go, I promptly forgot. Let’s just say this turned into another one of those African errands of mine spanning the space of weeks instead of minutes.

It's just so tiring to have to work so hard at everyday occurrences such as getting your mail or calling customer service. It's hard to imagine a thriving mail-order economy without better mail service. One that sends out notifications for package delivery. Where entire shipments don't disappear like this was the Bermuda Triangle. And where overseas credit card statements don't get intercepted by some Nigerian money-making scheme almost succeeding at emptying your entire bank account. 

Maybe I’m really better off sticking with the street vendors, where delivery is never a problem.

Where the goods just come flying through my open car window.

More Postal Service posts:


Jozie Days said...

Hi Sine, the postal service has been on strike for the last 4 months. Some post has been getting through but I received a letter yesterday for my renewal of my daily newspaper that expired in April! Luckily they also emailed it to me in March!


Sine said...

Lol. They have been on strike and I didn't even know it? But that just proves my point, doesn't it. SAPO can go on strike and you won't even notice a change from before.

Anonymous said...

This comment doesn't really belong to this post, but about 4 that you have written... (btw - I'm Beth from FB but don't have the time to figure out how to not be posting anonymous...sorting house for movers that arrive soon). We splurged and bought Kindles for the kids. It is basically Christmas here as mom is buying as much of America as possible to put in our shipment! Should we load up on the kindle before our departure or can we do that there? We have a VPN and will also be investing in unotelly. Does the iStore work ok over there? So ready to just be there. I keep waking at bizarre hours with thoughts of the tiniest things I can't forget to pack or do before leaving!

Stephanie said...

I can actually vouch for the SA postal system and say that it's worked quite well for me. No, it's not the USA one (which is bankrupt) but I haven't, knock on wood, ever lost anything and I've been sent quite a few things. One thing did take two months to get here but it got here. The UR post office people know me by name and are some of the nicest people I've met in SA. My dad just recently made an error and sent new American credit cards to our street address and they also got here just fine in ten days (he sent them priority USA mail). Beth, I am sure Sine will help you but to let you know, Kindles are double the price here. I just did the math yesterday. You can easily buy books here to load them (with either your USA or SA bank account info). The iTunes store will only work with an American based credit card, but if you have that for iTunes you are golden, though if you want to make South Africans happy. buy $25 iTunes gift cards (vouchers is the name here) to include in gifts because it's hard for them to use iTunes. Good luck packing!

Sine said...

@Beth: sounds like you're incredibly busy, I remember those days of waking up in the dead of night debating whether one has to get up to write it down or whether one might remember the next morning, something that at the time seems VERY important for the world continuing! Re Kindles - you did the right thing by buying them in the U.S., but you'll be fine loading up on them from here. Just make sure you go to the Kindle page and change your location to South Africa, otherwise you'll face extra charges if you have a subscription. Read my blog posts on the Kindle (it's in the categories I think), I might have links to the correct pages. And yep, iStore works fine as long as you have a US credit card. Don't change anything to the SA iStore, from what I hear it is terrible. Is the VPN a devide like Roku? Because that's what you'll want - something to let you do the streaming from your TV, not just your computer. We can use Unotelly but only Netflix at the moment, the only thing that shows up on our bluray player. So a device like Roku or Apple TV or whatever will come in handy. I'd want to order one through you but we're heading to the US in August, so it's just as fine if I buy it then. When are you departing?

Sine said...

@Stephanie: I think you have indeed been lucky. I always thought that SAPO was just fine if a bit slow as well, but too many things have disappeared for me to trust it anymore. And the thing with the intercepted bank card and subsequent letter asking for funds to be transferred to some obscure bank account - they could only have intercepted that card and somehow matched it with my husband's signature somewhere in the postal system. Or, I suppose, if someone had a way to break into those post boxes...

Madame Mediocre said...

Just an idea but I use a postnet suite & have never had any problems sending packages or receiving them from Australia & Uk. Much better than SAPO I've sent things air mail ( normal) as well as international courier & everything has got here within a week, after reading all the SAPO drama's Sine had prior to me moving to jozi I was extremely apprehensive on never receiving post again but postnet has been fab thus far. Just my 2 cents :-)

Sine said...

Oh, thanks so much for the tip! Not sure why I've never considered that. Does all your regular mail go there too or just packages? Do you basically rent it instead of a post box? Glad my drama helped someone with their move:-)