ParcelForce are completely incompetent. Avoid them if you can. And don’t send any large parcels to the UK without warning the recipient.

I bought a pushchair / pram from Ebay just over two weeks ago.

First I waited. Nothing happened. I gave it a week, then emailed the seller to check that they’d shipped it. They had indeed sent it off that Friday, and gave me a tracking number. I went to ParcelForce’s web site to see what’s happening.

It turned out that they had tried to deliver the parcel 3 times. First Monday morning 9:25. Then that same Monday afternoon 17:43. Then Tuesday 17:00.

It’s pretty absurd to expect anyone to be at home at those hours. Even someone with a 9-to-5 job wouldn’t be home at such times. But that’s OK, I was fully expecting them to turn up unannounced in the middle of the day, because that’s what ParcelForce does. It’s stupid, but at least it is predictable. They do that, then they leave a card, you call them and ask to redeliver on a Saturday or send it to the local Post Office. Fine.

But this time I did not get any notice of any of those three attempts: none of the usual cards (“we tried to deliver but you weren’t home”). No letter telling me that a parcel was waiting for me. Had it not been a parcel I ordered, I’d never have known that it had been sent, and it would have gone right back to the sender.

So on Monday I called ParcelForce’s call centre to ask them to send it to the local Post Office. (Their call centre is, of course, closed on weekends.) While the web site promises that it will be available after noon the next day, for some reason they told me it wouldn’t be there until Wednesday, but at that point another day’s delay didn’t concern me much.

Today Eric and I went to the Post Office to pick it up.

The Post Office knew nothing about our parcel, couldn’t care less about our parcel, and definitely weren’t going to do anything to help find out why it wasn’t there. We went home again and checked the web site, and sure enough, there was no notification there about it having been sent to the Post Office – it was still sitting in the depot.

By now I was getting slightly worried, because they only hold the parcel for 16 days – any longer than that, and it gets returned to the sender. I couldn’t ask them to deliver it on a weekend, because that would take me past that 16-day limit. And if I asked them to deliver it to the office instead of home, and they for some reason couldn’t get it done within 1 day, then that would again be past the limit. And I’m sure that it wouldn’t matter to them that the delay was because of their procedures. So I decided to bite the bullet and pick it up at the depot.

The web site told me where the depot is. Out in the boondocks, of course: in Charlton, which is 10 minutes by tube + 20 minutes by train + half a mile’s walk.

What it didn’t tell me was the opening hours. You have to call the depot for that. So I tried to call the depot to check their opening hours, and to confirm that I could turn up to pick up the parcel without advance notification. After 15 minutes of queueing, the voice on the phone said they were too busy to answer, and forwarded my call to the call centre again. Which, as I’d already discovered, was closed on weekends. The next call ended the same way.

Not seeing any other option, I went to Charlton anyway, hoping that they would be open. After a bit of wandering around in an empty industrial estate, I found the depot – only to see a man pushing the gate closed. It was 12:28 and it turned out they closed at 12:30. (Of course there was no sign saying that. If I had arrived 3 minutes later, I would probably have spent then next half hour looking for an open gate – because there was also no sign saying that this was actually the entrance.)

Anyway, he took pity on me and let me in, and found the parcel for me.

He also explained why the parcel wasn’t at the Post Office (after I complained about that). Apparently it was simply too big, and the Post Office wouldn’t have space for it. Which I can totally understand, after having seen the Post Office from the inside… But then why did they not tell me that on the phone? Or send me a notification? Or at least put a note in the tracking system? How was I supposed to know this?

It shouldn’t be a two-week adventure to get your parcel delivered. It shouldn’t take 40 minutes on the phone, one wasted trip to the Post Office, and then an extra 2-hour outing to somewhere that’s barely within our street map. It shouldn’t require lucky guessing of opening hours. It shouldn’t require advance knowledge (or a crystal ball to tell you) that a parcel has been sent to you.