June 11, 2006

I've had a mailbox at a local UPS Store, formerly Mail Boxes Etc., since I moved here a few weeks ago. It's proven very useful for receiving mail and packages I'd normally need to sign for, and it's given me an address that will follow me even after I move to my "permanent" housing on Thursday.

One of the new-to-me features as a customer is something the UPS Store calls "Call-In MailCheck®," where I can call ahead to check if mail has arrived in my box. When I first saw the feature, I was under the impression that it was automated: I could call a special number, punch in my mailbox number, and be told whether or not I have mail.

Imagine how disappointing it was the first time I called to try out MailCheck®. Instead of any sort of automated system, an employee simply answered my phone call. Confused, I asked him to check the mail in my box, reading the number to him out loud. He told me to hold on, then a few seconds later came back on the line and said there was no mail in my box. Since then I've had clerks read off lists of senders to tell me not only that I have mail, but that it's from particular companies. (I pity the poor young man yesterday who tried in vain to pronounce "Duquesne.")

I wouldn't have been so disappointed had the UPS Store not obtained a registered trademark on "MailCheck®." They could have done so much more with a simple light sensor in each box to detect if anything was inside: 24-hour automated phone checking, e-mail notification of mail and package arrival, and so on. I was even ready to write a Dashboard widget to tell me if I had mail. Now I feel a little embarrassed calling in to periodically ask the same few clerks to look in my little mail cubbyhole. It's kind of a shame because this store is owned by the same UPS that lets you track every little movement your packages make while in transit. Maybe in time they'll bring some more sophistication to the mailbox business they bought.