Ethical? UPS and iPad delivery shenanigans 22

As most of you know I have ordered an iPad and like all the other 250,000+ early adopters I am eagerly awaiting my delivery. On Monday I received notice of shipment from Apple and it showed the shipment had left China. By Tuesday at noon UPS said that it was in Louisville, KY and by midnight it was in State College, PA. Great! I knew that Apple would likely make arrangements with UPS to keep delivery from occurring before April 3rd (or the 5th in my case since it will be delivered to the office), but it was nice to know that it was in the neighborhood. Then things got curious.

By Thursday morning the UPS tracking system had reverted back to the original status on Monday, showing “origin scan” in Shenzhen, CN. Today, Friday morning, it now shows it is leaving China from Guangzhou.

UPS is busy reassuring the Apple faithful that their precious is in fact close by and will be delivered on time. I was sharing this with my folks and my grandmother yesterday who said this was “unethical.” At first I laughed at the notion and said that Apple has a right to determine when their product would have initial delivery, allowing them to make a big splash. And I still think that is true, but…

When I saw the tracking information this morning and that it now showed that it was just leaving China this morning, even as I knew it was in my town and the UPS folks were reassuring us all that their tracking information was wrong, I reconsidered my view.

The UPS system has been manipulated to present me (and every other iPad recipient) with false information. They are lying to us. If that is not unethical, then it is at least very poor customer service. They are harming their credibility and demonstrating that if you are powerful enough (Apple) you can force UPS to alter their tracking system to suit your needs.

So my conclusion is that UPS has, if not behaved unethically, behaved in a way that undermines their credibility. What do you think?


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22 thoughts on “Ethical? UPS and iPad delivery shenanigans

  • Steve Caruso

    Where I have some experience working with tracking systems, I know that sometimes odd rollback glitches can and do happen.

    However, if others come forward with a similar experience (which seems to be the case in *spades*) then UPS has been caught red-handed with either a) a bigger problem than they’re letting on or b) data manipulation. These sorts of systems don’t take more than 24 hours to sync up across the board, and they likely use the very same checkpoint data that the company uses internally.

    The only reasonable reason that I can think of for manipulating the tracking data display is to protect their physical premises from thievery. The iPad is a hot item, and if someone is able to hack the public tracking data and find that enough iPads are hanging out at a particular branch office, it could be a tempting enough situation to be a security risk.

    However, as I said, that’s the only reason I can think of. 🙂


    • Chris Brady Post author

      In this case UPS has more or less admitted that they have changed and manipulated the tracking data at the request of the shipper (Apple). I don’t mind them holding it until a pre-appointed time, it is UPS’ altering the tracking data that I find disconcerting.

  • Totally Anonymous

    Just keep in mind that as a customer, Apple can bring incredible pressure to bear on UPS about how this happens — and then they can NOT hold up their end of the deal about how it will go down, too.

    Steve also makes a good point – there was a really big game that was shipping sometime back – Might have been one of the GTA titles, I don’t remember – but there was a lot of actual theft of that item because it was a little too findable.

    In short, there’s a lot more going on here than just getting these things from point a to point b.

  • Rick Wright

    I can’t speak to this specific instance (was it in China or not? who manipulated the information? or was it just a glitch?) but I can tell you that since Hurricane Katrina *we* have been increasingly frustrated and disappointed with UPS. Always? No most of the time they do a fine job. But we have seen enough problems to prefer other delivery methods. (Generally along the lines of “it was on the truck why the heck did we not get it?!?”)

    • Chris Brady Post author

      I can understand your frustration. I felt it in Louisiana even before Katrina. UPS is admitting this time that their tracking system is incorrect in order to keep people from calling up asking for their delivery, etc.

      My brother who is in supply chain and logistics tells me it is common, for example, if you have paid for 2 day shipping and it gets to the depot in 1 day they will still hold it to deliver on day 2, since that is what you paid for. I have no problem with that. On the other hand in those cases they usually do not manipulate the tracking data…

  • David

    I just got off the phone with UPS and despite notification from Apple that my iPad shipped on March 31st, UPS tells me they have not received it as do not expect to deliver it before April 5th. I ordered on March 12th the 1st day you could order

    UPS sucks this is not the 1st time I have had issues with them that is why I have a FedEx account

  • Dizzle

    I was already charged for my iPad… I better know exactly where it is at all times, that is the only thing that irks me. Maybe if we weren’t already charged for it.

  • Dizzle

    then again. This just goes to prove the point. From the day you purchase anything from apple. You never truly “own” it. Our iPads are technically property of apple and always will be, even though we forked over $500+. Therefore, they do whatever they want and prevent you from doing anything YOU want. Even if that means pressuring the shipping vendor to withhold information on it’s whereabouts.

  • Debbie Curtis-Magley


    Interesting discussion at your blog today. We’ve been closely following the online conversations and recognize that the tracking details at have created confusion for some customers. As you pointed out, the iPads are on track for delivery tomorrow as part of Apple’s launch day.

    UPS worked closely with Apple to fulfill its goal for a coordinated delivery on the iPad launch day. When executing a special delivery plan such as this, our tracking system does not reflect all of the package movements. We appreciate the confidence customers have in our service. Thanks for sharing your perspective. We hope you enjoy your iPad.

    Debbie Curtis-Magley
    UPS Public Relations

    • K Tompkins

      Well, I ordered March 12, at 7:35 a.m. This morning I received an email from UPS stating that the “exception” that everyone has been reporting has caused a delay of many iPads to be delivered April 5, even though I’m in a large city with Saturday delivery. So it appears that something actually happened to a large group of iPads that delayed until Monday.

  • Mark Dickens

    All of the iPads in transit are scheduled to be delivered by the date Apple indicated in your original confirmation e-mail. The delivery plan is based on the instructions that UPS received from Apple. Please contact Apple for any further information regarding your specific shipment. Thanks.

    Mark Dickens
    UPS Public Relations

    • Tony

      Mark, with all due respect, that’s a cop-out answer. This is not a question about when the device will be delivered. It’s a question about why UPS would manipulate data shared with customers on purpose. Clearly, process and system changes are in order. The UPS system should accurately show where the packages are and, if necessary, indicate when they are being held as part of a special event rollout. Bad deal.

  • Tony


    Now I see what you mean. Mine had still been saying the package was here in Dallas for delivery. Now, just as in your case, it has been adjusted to make it appear as if the device is still in China. I agree with you..if not unethical, this is at least VERY POOR customer relationship management on the part of UPS.

    When FedEx handled the iPhone 3GS rollout, at least they maintained the truthful view of where the device was located.

    Very poor UPS. No good.

  • Mark

    I encourage everyone that does not receive their iPad today to help cause a PR nightmare for UPS! Call your local TV newsrooms, your local news radio, and your local newspaper. There is no excuse for this as UPS knew we would not getting Saturday delivery when they took the order!

    If I had known I would have reserved an iPad at the local Apple Store. To live in the suburbs of a city as large as Philadelphia and not get delivery is unacceptable.

    Plus, my iPad has been (and still is) sitting in Louisville for 3 days. If it were at the local UPS hub 15 miles away I could have driven their and picked it up (and saved UPS some money).

    I have ordered many Apple launch event items and never had this problem with FedEX.

    Time for UPS to go back to their “Whiteboard” and draw up how to entertain my friends at our iPad party tonight!

    • Andy

      Just think about it for a second before slamming UPS.

      The iPad is a hot commodity. If it had been public knowledge that a crapload of iPads had been sitting at your local UPS hub down on Oregon Ave, don’t you think there would have been more than one group of thieves/vandals/flash mobs that might also have been interested in the exact whereabouts of the shipments?

  • Joe

    I am an Account Manager for UPS and they are not manipulatingt he tracking Information. What you are seeing is the package clearing customs. Many times the package clears customs electronically while in transit or before it is actually shipped. The majority of international packages flow through Louisville, KY. I understand how it appears that the package is already at it’s destination, but our internal tracking system is more robust and we can read the different information. I agree that something should be done not to confuse customers, but you have to understand how complicated it is to do what UPS did with the ipad deliveries. We are not unethical and tracking info cannot be changed or edited. I’m sure that upwards of 99% of the pre-orders were delivered on time. I’ve seen post on the net where people stated that fedex would have done a better job, when in fact they deliver to less zip codes on Saturday than UPS. Fact is no other company out there could have made this happen.

  • Steve Brady

    Okay, far be it from me to comment on something dealing with supply chain issues (oh wait, it’s kinda my schtick…)

    Joe, what you are saying here is that UPS has a system that, rather than say “clearing customs in…” tells the customer–the person UPS is serving– something that is “not true.”

    Since Chris posed this as a question concerning “ethics” I will say that I will have to agree. The series of actions demonstrated by UPS and documented by many is clearly “mis-leading” and according to several UPS sources misleading by intent.

    Intentionally misleading customers is unethical. I am not sure one could argue otherwise.

    Now, I have written previously (see for post “UPS reports 5 y.o. called to ‘return to sender'”) about actions from UPS that have called in to question not only the accuracy, but the truthfulness of the UPS tracking system.

    Here’s the problem: While Joe argues that UPS ” can read the different information” the tracking system by the very fact that it is available to customers is not simply for “internal tracking” but for their customers to track as well. UPS serves a wide range of “customers” and they are trying to serve each of them. Package tracking systems are designed to give “in transit visibility” for packages that customers (Apple *and* Apple’s customers) have determined are important to them. Failing to accurately report the information is a problem. Intentionally masking, altering, or misleading customers is unethical.

    Here’s a big question though: Which is worse, an unethical company that delivers your products on time because they (and they alone) can see the “real” data, or an incompetent one that perhaps can’t even deliver packages on time because their drivers choose to falsify information rather than make a delivery?

  • Steve Brady

    Might I also add that what UPS did wasn’t all that complicated compared to what they do every other day.

    On most days UPS is taking what, millions of packages from hundreds of thousands of shippers, and delivering them to and equally large number of receivers. They must collect, consolidate, process, sort and deliver. Wow! That’s a task!

    In the case of the iPads they had to take a large number from a single source (FoxConn?) and then delivering to a (admittedly large) set of customers that they have had on their list for quite a while (hey, normally they know the destinations 24 hours in advance–the advance notice they had to plan routes for this one might as well have been an eternity!)

    They did a good job, but in all seriousness, it wasn’t herculean, and other companies could have pulled it off with the same scenario.

    (RECAP: ONE shipper. Significant lead-time to plan routes for delivery. Significant lead time to preposition for shipping. NOT a “logistics/supply chain” miracle)