Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Goat Show

We have had our present government for exactly 21 years (yesterday was a public holiday that celebrated that fact). In 1994, many predicted that it would take 20 years for our infrastructure to break down. Some of us chose to be optimistic and, unfortunately, our optimism has not been rewarded. It has taken almost exactly twenty years.

In the last few months we have purchased a petrol generator so that we can continue to work, cook and have electric light during our, usually daily, two-hour power cuts. Sometimes we have two two-hour power cuts in a day. In addition to the generator, we have installed two one thousand-litre reserve water tanks and are also the proud owners of a twenty-five litre refillable dispenser of purified water for drinking, and which has pride of place next door to the hob on one of our kitchen counters. I’m currently looking into a solar-powered geyser so that we won’t ever have to endure cold showers and, also, inverters. So that if we can’t get petrol to run the generator we have that back up. All at huge expense, particular if you consider that we pay tax and our tax ought to ensure that these things are provided.

From our customers’ point of view, some of you have also been affected by the fact that the postal service is all but non-functional.

It started last year with industrial unrest, then it seemed to come right and we started using the post office again. That, as it turns out, was not a smart thing to do because unbeknown to us it was not functioning at full capacity. Parcels that should have taken two weeks to reach our customers overseas were getting stuck at the international mail hub at Johannesburg airport, and taking up to two months to reach their destination. In addition to that, it has come to light that South African Airways was refusing to take their freight because they hadn’t paid their bills for, who knows how long. At least ninety days. Then last week, their bank accounts were frozen as a result of a court order, because they owe a cell phone provider about fifty million.

So, all in all, not a happy story. My son has a name for it which I am not going to repeat here. It has to do with goat fornication.

But all is not lost. As is the story of Africa, when things break down all sorts of entrepreneurs and other clever people spring up with clever ideas and good service. Everything goes private and that’s how we are solving our shipping problems.

If you are in South Africa and are one of our domestic customers, the only option that you will find in the checkout section of your cart when you order from our website, is Aramex Couriers. If you live in one of the main centres you will get your parcel the next day. If you live in a smaller centre it may take 36 to 48 hours from when it leaves our studio. We feel confident that you will be happy to use this method because, living in South Africa, you know exactly what our problems are.

For our international customers, if your parcel is under 2 kg, you will have two options. The first is Postnet (I’ll talk about them later) and the second is Aramex Couriers. For anything over 2 kg, the only option available to you is Aramex Couriers. Your might ask how you will know what it weighs. You don’t have to worry about that. The website calculates it for you and Postnet disappears from the options the moment it goes above 2 kg.

And now, to explain what these shipping options are.

Aramex Couriers is a worldwide courier, and works in the same way as courier companies whose names might be familiar to you. The reason why we use them is because their rates are the best out there and, also, because they have a local office which provides us with very good service. We are based in a small city and most of the courier companies don’t have offices here. That can create problems, so it’s better to use a company with an office in town. And whenever the manager pays me a courtesy call, she just loves my dogs. That’s a big plus for Aramex! Like all courier companies, though, international customers will probably have to pay handling costs at destination. This would include customs duty, which you would probably pay anyway. If you choose Aramex as a shipping option, you must give us a physical address (as opposed to a post office box number), your telephone number and your postal code.

Now to Postnet. Postnet has been operating as, amongst other things, a private post office for a number of years. At least a decade, but probably more. When the South African post office was operating as it should, we didn’t use them as we had no need to. Earlier this month, however, when we decided that we would no longer darken the door of any post office branch anywhere, I went to see them because, although we have the option of using couriers, it’s expensive for our lighter parcels and we needed something closer to normal postal rates. I came away from my meeting with our local branch feeling positive, at last.

They have nothing to do with the post office at all. Their international mail goes to one central point in Johannesburg, from where it is sent to London. From London they use the services of Royal Mail or Global Mail to distribute the parcels to wherever they need to go in the world. All of this for only a slightly more expensive (15%) rate than conventional postal rates. It also means that, whereas parcels may have previously got to their destinations in about two weeks, it is likely to take a few days longer. Slightly slower and slightly more expensive, but from my point of view, peace of mind is priceless, particularly after what we have experienced over the last seven months or so.

If your parcel weighs less than 2 kg, but may be close to that weight, it is worth checking on both options. Very often at about 1.5 kg, depending on where it is going in the world, the Aramex rate works out cheaper than the Postnet rate. How to check, you may ask?

Once you have ordered what you want to order, sign in and make sure that we have your correct delivery address. #You can do that by clicking on ‘my account’ then on ‘shipping options’ and click ‘save’ once you have entered your correct address.# Go to ‘view cart’

Once you have reviewed your order, click ‘proceed’. You will be taken to a page that, at first glance, looks like you are only offered the Aramex option. Take a look at the charge under Shipping, take note of what it is and then click on the white box (with the arrow) above that and choose Postnet. If Postnet is not available it means that your parcel is over 2 kg. If it is available, the shipping charge will appear in the same line of the invoice below that, and you can decide which one you want to use at that point, bearing in mind handling charges for couriers (not Postnet) on your end. Depending on what option you have chosen, you might need to change your delivery address, which you can do before proceeding, by repeating # to # above.

So, I think we might have solved our shipping problems, with not a lot more expense. We are keeping an eye on it and hope that we won’t have to change again.

I am grateful to all of the customers that have been so very reasonable during this transition period and for those that haven’t, we have understood your frustration.

Over the years I have heard complaints about all sorts of postal services – Royal Mail, USPS, Canada, wherever – and I think to myself ‘you haven’t got a clue’. If you live in a country where everything works and, of course, you take it for granted that it will work, it is just not possible to understand the goat show (that’s the polite version of what my son calls it, see above) that we’re dealing with here. I don’t expect you to understand it, but please be assured we do our best to make sure that you get what you have ordered. And if you don’t, we send it to you again at our own expense. Whatever happens, you will always get it. Maybe late, but not ever never.