Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Nearly Busted Again!

The Spanish Inquisition ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons (Bernard Picart)
Almost a year to the day since I had my knuckles rapped by the Royal Mail for attempting to send consignments of perfume abroad, last week I came close to being busted again - or so I feared. Not all of the wrongdoing was my own, however, as you will see.

By way of background, I should explain that in tandem with the (not overly successful!) bottle sale on Bonkers the other week - which may of course be partly down to this fact that I cannot post abroad - I have been lobbing a few bottles on eBay, and letting them take their chances. The other day I was lucky enough to sell one of these, for a quite decent sum too. It was a not quite full 100ml bottle, so - mindful of the risks of leakage in transit - I parcelled the bottle up with elaborate care: first I put tape round its collar, then popped it into a gauze bag, which I placed inside a plastic mailer, before swaddling the plastic mailer in bubble wrap and laying the whole thing gently in a nest of tissue paper inside a gift box. I closed this box tightly with elastic bands, before wedging it inside a sturdy cardboard outer box lined with polystyrene chips and scrunched up bubble wrap. That box was then firmly sealed on all edges with parcel tape.

So far so good. Then, at my local post office, from the moment I asked for an ID8000 label everything started to unravel. The postmaster is used to my frequent shipments of perfume, and these days the most he ever asks me is: 'One bottle or two'. On that afternoon, however, his elderly mother was serving at the counter, and proved to be an absolute stickler for the rules. Anxious to create a good impression, he acted as her Greek chorus, chiming in with her ever more impossible stipulations. "Is it in the original packaging?" "Yes." I replied. "In its original box?" ", it's not in a box." "It must be in the original box with the cellophane still on." All of a sudden, the postmaster whipped out a blue demonstration bottle of a men's fragrance to show me what his mother meant by a perfume bottle. "This comes in a box, wrapped in cellophane. Is this what you are sending?" ", but to be honest, I am not sure it ever had cellophane - I am not even sure it had a box. It might have been a bag." "That's the only way you can send the original box, in cellophane."

So that was me told. Browbeaten and crestfallen in equal measure, I slunk off to the next nearest post office, a little sub-branch inside a grocer's about half a mile away. Once again I asked for an ID8000 label, and this time hoped against hope there would be no grilling about boxes, let alone cellophane, or the small matter of the missing 15ml... The lady behind the counter looked at me as though I were an alien. "We don't have those. I have no idea what they are", adding in a peeved tone, as though I was trying to make her life inordinately difficult - at 4.45pm to boot: "I only work in the shop a couple of days a week - I don't normally deal with this side." In vain did I ask her to have a rummage in the drawer in case one of her colleagues had put some of the all-important labels by. "No, we don't have them. So do you want to post this then?" Suddenly, a Royal Mail delivery man hove into view, a huge, strapping hulk of a man, who wordlessly began humping big plastic sacks of parcels to his van, before returning and loitering with intent as I decided if I was going to post this package 'commando' or not. "You are my witness that I did ask for a label?" I piped up in a tone I had intended to sound cheerily upbeat, but which came out as wavering and doomed. "Hey, I don't have anything to do with postage and all that." Of course he doesn't - he is Royal Mail and she is a small outpost of Post Office Counters within a convenience store.

In desperation, I decided to chance the package with tracking, but without a hazard label. At least I hadn't been asked any awkward questions, but now the box had to take its chances in the Royal Mail's system, subject to random - or possibly even systematic! - scans and spot checks of its contents. I could so easily come a cropper, and what if it were a case of 'three strikes and you're out'? And straight into Stafford Gaol, as quickly as Rolf Harris was smuggled out the back at dawn the other month.

HM Prison Stafford ~ Source: Wikipedia (Stephen Pearce)

Cue a nailbiting 48 hours, which was the shortest timeframe in which a second class parcel could arrive. Meanwhile, I tried googling the scenarios under which Royal Mail parcels travelling within the UK are likely to be scanned. Could it be first class only? Special delivery? Ones going on a plane, even within the country? Tracked mail of any class? Some combination of the above - or even a completely different and more random set of criteria...

I also sought solace in a fragrance selling and swap site on Facebook. Members piled in to regale me with tales of their own daring and derring-do in dodging the authorities - many involving creative renaming of their parcels' contents as a  'statue', 'collector's toy', 'cosmetics samples', 'CDs', and 'books'. One comment in particular really helped allay my nerves:

"Ohhh don't sweat it. You'd probably get sooner taken for a ride by a dodgy buyer than have Royal Mail give you a headache with your parcel."

Kittens assuaged, I did take the precaution of alerting the buyer to my postal problems, and reassured her that I would issue a full refund in the event of the parcel being intercepted and confiscated. She was most understanding, and said she'd keep her fingers crossed for - and with - me. We sat tight for two days. Then on Day 3 at 11am I received an email from her saying the parcel had landed safely, without any sign of misadventures en route. She thanked me for packing it so securely, and for the free sample, while I thanked her for her patience. Then I thanked the members of the fragrance site, as their stories from the coal face of perilous perfume posting had been a comfort at a worrying time.

Source: Nestle

It was some days before I ventured out to my local post office again - with two big parcels this time. The postmaster was there, with his wife serving, and the mother nowhere to be seen. The wife weighed each package and made no comment - not even to ask me which service I wanted it to go by(!), so I chipped in to specify second class. The fact that they asked no questions is less significant than you might think, a) because the parcels were both returns - one to an Amazon supplier, the other to Nestle (two defective boxes of Cheerios, since you asked ;) ) - and b) because they didn't feel or look remotely like the sort of package that could contain perfume. Though I could so easily have lost a decant or two in one of the Cheerios boxes. But nevertheless, the near silence was in complete and utter contrast to last week's Spanish Inquisition.

I don't know if this marks a turning point in my relations with my local post office...I cannot be sure the postmaster will revert to his laissez-faire self on a future occasion, even if the mother is not on his case. So I think I should find a post office that is in possession of ID8000 labels, but which displays at best a cursory interest in the contents of my package.

And someone needs to tell the Royal Mail that not all new perfumes come wrapped in cellophane...

Do you have any perfume posting war stories - from either side of the pond? Do tell! (I might feel a little less beleaguered. ;) )


Tiffanie said...

The US Postal Service is happy to ship my perfume packages so long as I declare their contents, and everything I've shipped within the US has traveled safely, though one package I sent cross-country unaccountably took almost a month to reach it's destination. That was a nail-biter for me as it was my side of a perfume swap, and my swap partner's package arrived at my door in less than a week.

Over the past few years a number of perfume samples promised to me never arrived, though I don't know if the fault was with the sender or the mail service. Two that went missing were en route from Europe to the US so it's anybody's guess where things went awry. And I forgot about them for so long that I did not have the nerve to inquire about them when I realized they never arrived.

Glad you shared your post office drama, I am always a bit worried when I post a smelly box. I would have been tempted by your sale if I were on your side of the Atlantic.

Unknown said...

Glad to hear it all went all right in the end! - Roger

Tara said...

It's ludicrous, especially when the treatment you get is so inconsistent. I was really put out when I couldn't send a partial bottle to you in it's original packaging because it had been used. I thought the only issue was with decants at that point. I took it another post office where they asked nothing at all. I still don't get how perfume is hazardous. I bet it's not even treated differently with the label on. From now on I will claim I'm posting "a statue".
Good to hear your bottle arrived all right but you could have been saved the worry.

Vanessa said...

Thanks, Roger! You witnessed my ongoing twitchiness while the package was in transit. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tiffanie,

Glad to hear that you have mostly had good experiences with perfume packages entrusted to your domestic postal service. I can well imagine how nerve-wracking it must have been waiting for your end of that swap to arrive! Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to how long things take to get to their destinations.

Maybe the samples that didn't make it from Europe were indeed intercepted. I certainly won't be risking it again. Shame I couldn't sell you anything in the sale!

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

It is very inconsistent from PO to PO, and day to day even in the same one! Not just depending on which staff are serving, but even this postmaster has different moods and levels of sticklerness on an unpredictable basis.

Haha, I might also be posting a few statues in future. ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear the perfume arrived okay after all that hassle! In the US, alcohol based liquids like perfumes can't be sent regular post officially, you have to specify they contain perfume and then pay 5x the normal price to ship them :( The first time I learned this, I looked so dismayed that the woman at the post office must have felt sorry for me, because she let me have a shipping box for free after the original packaging was deemed to be the wrong shape. Luckily my new post office has shipping...machine(?) where all you have to do is push the right buttons and never have to deal with any real people. I use the machine whenever I can!

AustralianPerfumeJunkies said...

When the governments of the world start telling me the truth I will happily return the favour.
Portia xx

Asali said...

I don't get the 'no perfume' and hazardous liquid, just why?
Anyway, I'm glad the perfume arrived safely at its new home.
And on another note, I think the swapping and selling used perfume is just not as popular as it used to be. Maybe it's due to the postal issues, maybe it's that people prefer brand new, who knows... It's a bit sad really.
Remember next time to just post all you decants/ bottles in a semi full Cheerios box ;-)

Vanessa said...

Well said, Portia! xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

You could be right that people are less interested in swapping and selling used perfume. In the early days of my hobby, I did some 75 trades on Makeupalley - it was almost like a full time job! The postal issues may well have had an impact but I think people's mindset has also changed.

I laughed at your 'Cheerios mule' suggestion! It is tempting...;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Anonymous,

I had no idea it costs that much extra - or any extra - to ship perfume within the US. That was sweet of the PO lady to give you a free box by way of consolation after you found this out. I like the sound of the machines - they would definitely ask fewer questions, if any. ;)

Undina said...

Whenever I can, I avoid going to the post office myself - not to lie to a person :) I usually prepare the shipping (and the required form for the international shipping) and then ask a friend to post it while waiting for her outside :). When I have to go, I use ground shipping for domestic packages (but still answer "no" to the question about perfumes) or "aromatherapy oil samples" for my international packages.

It is beyond ridiculous, in my opinion. I could probably understand restricting the volume of flammable liquids in a parcel but those stupid limitations on "new" vs. "used" and "original packaging," etc.!!! You can send a gallon of olive oil but you cannot send a 10 ml of perfume?!! Have anyone heard of perfume spontaneous combustion?! And leaking olive oil or paint will produce much more damage than a couple of samples.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I love the idea of your delegating the task to a nominated 'PO mule' where possible. Funnily enough, I have an eBay auction ending (of a perfume bottle) while I am away this week, and have similarly primed a friend to do the PO honours for me - she has been briefed on how to parry all the possible awkward questions.

'Aromatherapy oil samples' is a good way to construe things. I must check if they would be permissible for us to send overseas, but I got so badly burnt last time I would be reluctant to chance it, even if it seemed they would be accepted.

And I am completely with you on the illogicality of the arguments for allowing one kind of liquid and not another, but what can we do? ;(

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if you were to label as "glass ornament and cosmetic sample"which an opened bottle essentially is,do it would be the truth and less likely to cause concern. You would likely have to send only one glass ornament at a time and frequent more than post offices, but it's worth a try.

-- Lindaloo

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

I love that suggestion! Deconstruction is the way forward. ;) And I agree about the multiple post offices. An emerging glass ornament sending habit might be hard to get past my regular branch.