There are certain industries that inspire outsize amounts of rage when they screw up. Airlines are one. TV providers are another. But angry comment for angry comment, there may be no more rage-inducing business than package delivery. If you want to garner widespread customer fury, just deliver a package late or damaged and wait for the storm to roll in. LaserShip — an Uber-like service that delivers packages for Amazon, Walmart, and Sephora, among others — might just be the most hated company on the internet. Some comments, helpfully gathered by the criticism website LaserShit.com:
LaserShip — and the ocean of dissatisfied customers it leaves in its wake — is an inevitable result of stratospheric growth. Reliable shipping companies like FedEx, UPS, and the USPS aren’t able to deliver all of the same-day, next-day, and two-day packages that Amazon’s Prime customers are paying for, and the infrastructure just isn’t there to do it as cheaply and efficiently as Amazon needs. That’s led to parasitic companies popping up to take advantage of Amazon’s need for cheap, fast package delivery. The poster child might just be LaserShip.
Amazon uses a variety of ways to get people their packages. Because its volume is so huge, an algorithm automatically chooses the best available option between the USPS, UPS, FedEx, Amazon’s own Flex delivery service, and any of several companies Amazon calls DSPs, or delivery-service providers. Customers can’t select which shipping service they’d prefer; there’s too high a chance that one of those companies is maxed out on how many deliveries it’s making, or that the cost for Amazon would be too high. A same-day delivery done by FedEx could cost Amazon $50, according to Kevin Porter, who has worked for LaserShip, FedEx, and UPS as a courier. So Amazon sources cheaper options. One of those is LaserShip.
Twitter and many message boards, including posts on Amazon’s own forums, are full of complaints about LaserShip. Packages aren’t delivered. Packages are delivered late — this is more troubling given that Amazon often claims a strict delivery window of the same day, the next day, or in two days — or are left outside. Packages are marked as delivered and not delivered. Packages are delivered to the wrong address. Packages are often just completely lost. (The message for that one is, “LaserShip is unable to confirm control of your package at this time.”) Sometimes, an error will show up on the tracking page: “Parcel damaged and will be discarded.” Customers who attempt to contact LaserShip report being totally unable to solve their problems; they are better off contacting Amazon or whichever company they originally purchased their item from.
There are thousands of complaints about LaserShip. Do a Twitter search for the company’s name and you’ll find dozens of tweets per day, essentially none of them positive. (There’s a slight bias there; when was the last time you tweeted that the mail got to you on time? Still, though.) A single one of the threads on Amazon’s forums about LaserShip has nearly 6,500 posts, with more added frequently. Yelp reviews of a facility in New Jersey — one star out of five, 192 reviews — are almost entirely from people who have just had packages delivered, or not delivered, by LaserShip. Few people seem to have actually interacted with the New Jersey facility in any direct way. There’s even a Change.org petition for Amazon to stop using LaserShip.
LaserShip was started in 1986 as a document-delivery service, but within a few years, landed Barnes & Noble as a client during the dot-com boom. Ever since, the company has expanded from its Vienna, Virginia, headquarters, just outside Washington, D.C., to deliver to most of the East Coast. The company, despite its age, is structured like a sharing-economy service: Its couriers are independent contractors, not employees, and those couriers must use their own cars and pay for all expenses, including gas and repairs. Couriers for LaserShip are paid by the package; Porter told me that he was paid between $2 and $4 per package earlier this quarter.
But to make its service affordable, LaserShip cuts corners at every available opportunity. (The company did not return multiple requests for comment.) “Their equipment sucked,” said one former employee who asked to remain anonymous. “It was hard to do our job with bad supplies.” The handheld scanners, said this employee, frequently broke down and were hard to use. The routes, set up by LaserShip employees, were often wrong or incomplete. The company delivers in major cities, but unlike the USPS, does not get apartment codes or keys, meaning that packages are often left outside to be stolen or damaged.
Again, unlike Amazon’s Flex service, which pays its similarly structured couriers by blocks of time, the LaserShip couriers are paid by the package, which encourages them to make as many deliveries as possible in the shortest amount of time. There are many videos of LaserShip couriers throwing fragile packages out of car windows in the general direction of houses.
“I saw piles of packages that weren’t delivered,” says the anonymous former LaserShip courier. They would sit in those piles for days, the courier said, sometimes never actually leaving the facility, and eventually marked as “undeliverable.” One of the most common errors that LaserShip commits — marking an item as delivered when it has not been — makes more sense in that context; couriers have a financial incentive to simply claim an item was delivered and deal with the consequences later, if there are any.
Partly, the problem is also due to the apparent lack of screening or training for couriers. “LaserShip has the worst drivers. No training. All independent contractors,” says Porter, who delivered packages in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. An anonymous LaserShip courier conducted a Reddit AMA where he claimed many drivers had a limited understanding of English, which could impact their ability to navigate a route. “They will hire anybody (seriously) you don’t even have to know a lick of english. Have a car and drivers license? Bam you’re hired,” he wrote. Pay seems to vary; couriers I spoke to reported wages ranging from $500 per week to $1,500 per week, though that’s before gas and wear-and-tear on the courier’s car, which can cost hundreds of dollars each week.
LaserShip primarily handles the most demanding aspects of delivery, while simultaneously being the least capable of performing that job. The company often delivers same-day packages or provides extra deliveries during peak periods like the Christmas season, according to former couriers I spoke to. Several former couriers also said that some blame might lie with Amazon, that packages LaserShip is supposed to deliver do not actually arrive to the LaserShip dispatch centers. Whether that problem lies with Amazon or with the path that packages take from an Amazon distribution center to a LaserShip dispatch is not clear.
LaserShip has also been embroiled in several lawsuits. The company settled a 2014 lawsuit for $800,000 after Massachusetts couriers accused the company of misclassifying them as independent contractors instead of employees. A New York lawsuit accused the company of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by making unlawful deductions to their wages, failing to pay wages, and failing to pay overtime when the couriers worked in excess of 40 hours per week.
Amazon declined to give me an on-the-record interview about LaserShip, but did provide the following statement: “Across the U.S., small and medium sized businesses provide work opportunities to thousands of individuals who deliver packages to Amazon customers. These businesses have their own employees and are required to abide by applicable laws and Amazon’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which focuses on fair wages, benefits, appropriate working hours and compensation. Safety and customer trust are our top priorities, which is why we require delivery service providers to conduct comprehensive background checks for their employee drivers.”
What I learned from the LaserShip employees, as well as customers, suggests that LaserShip is not conducting anything like a “comprehensive background check,” which may be in violation of the company’s contract with Amazon. In any case, frequent LaserShip victims recommend that Amazon customers opt for two-day shipping — usually done through big, respectable organizations like the USPS and FedEx, which Porter says “babysits” their packages — rather than same-day or next-day shipping, which might be shipped through LaserShip. To take the step of opting for a slower delivery in order to ensure that your package arrives at all feels crazy, but this is all a result of a nation-state company like Amazon growing so fast; the infrastructure of existing delivery services is not capable of doing what Amazon needs. The weird little parasites like LaserShip are a species that’s found a niche in the market wherein Amazon doesn’t really have much of a choice but to put up with them. Customers, though, don’t seem all that eager to do the same.