"Click-N-Ship" Becomes "Click-N-Curse" As Outages Riddle Postal Service

"Unprecedented" problems with the United States Postal Service's popular Click-N-Ship service probably had many holiday shippers clicking and cursing throughout the week, but a USPS spokesman said the worst was over by December 12. USPS spokesman Michael Woods, on the afternoon (New York time) of December 12, couldn't (or just wouldn't) describe exactly what went wrong with Click-N-Ship and several other components of the postal service's suite of online services, including free package pickup and ZIP code locator. He, of course, wanted to focus on the positive: The system seemed be done with its hissy fits. Click-N-Ship is a Web-based service that enables registered users to pay for and print postage labels. They can also purchase shipment insurance and, with Priority Mail transactions, receive free electronic delivery confirmation. "Obviously, this is one of the busiest times of the year for us and for our customers," Woods said. "Volume definitely played a part, but there was also a technical glitch in the system." Although he conceded the sporadic outages were "an unprecedented issue in terms of the length of time the site experienced issues," Woods noted the system never crashed completely. However, he said the postal service purposely took Click-N-Ship offline briefly so it could conduct "internal testing" before making it available again for public use. The shutdown took place during night hours to have the least amount of impact on customers, noted Woods. "We are still continuing to monitor everything closely and we are fine-tuning the solution," the spokesman said on December 12. He pledged the USPS's internal IT department and its external partners were "working to determine the exact, root cause" of the intermittent outages and "identified several possible problems" within the system. Although Woods said the USPS's Web services were seemingly running smoothly on December 12, the postal service was playing it safe. Visitors to the Click-N-Ship corner of the Web site were met with this statement: "Click-N-Ship customers still may encounter problems. Customer's (sic) credit cards will not be charged if labels do not print. We have taken every step to resolve the situation, and continue to work around the clock both internally and with our external partners." The warning automatically disappeared as the site loaded and it then loaded the real Click-N-Ship page, but even that page came with a caution in small, but red, type: "Click-N-Ship customers still may encounter problems. Your credit card will not be charged if a label is not printed." Those were not the postal service's only efforts in terms of customer outreach relating to the Click-N-Ship situation. Woods said a "pro-active outreach effort" aimed at potentially frustrated would-be Click-N-Shippers involved e-mails to about 900,000 of the service's most active users and phone calls to a select group of top-of-the-heap customers. "We understand what time of year it is," Woods said. "It's the holiday season. We wanted to make sure we did everything possible." He said customers were also told they could try using services similar to Click-N-Ship that are offered by USPS partners Endicia.com and Stamps.com. "Our IT staff and our external partners have been working 24x7, around the clock," Woods said. "We understand it's not only a busy holiday time for us but also for our customers. We've been doing everything we can to get the system online and we are continuing to monitor it extremely closely. We are hopeful the solutions we implemented got to the solution of the problem and there will be no more problems." According to Woods, the USPS' busiest day of the year should be Monday, Dec. 15. On that day, the service expects to process about 960 million pieces of mail, about 260 million pieces more than the daily average. Woods could not provide traffic information for Click-N-Ship. He said the two million registered Click-N-Ship users used the service 34 million times last year.