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The sorry truth about tracking
January 6th, 2010

Once in a while, a package I’ve shipped doesn’t arrive when expected, and I get an email asking if I have a tracking number. I always say, “We don’t ship with tracking because things almost always arrive even if they take longer than they should, so please give it a bit more time and I’m sure it will arrive, and we’ll replace it if it doesn’t.” Just about always, people get their orders within a day of asking where it is (which is very odd). My feeling has always been that (given the very few orders that really get lost) it is more cost-effective to just replace them than to pay for tracking on every shipment. I think the only package that ever got lost, within the US, was sent to an address where no one was home for 6 months, and when they returned, surprise, their package wasn’t there. Not so much lost as stolen.

But recently there has been a spate (where spate = 3 or 4) of orders that took a lot longer than they should have to arrive, which I reshipped. So I looked into tracking.

I found that basically the Postal Service doesn’t do tracking. (They claim that they handle too much mail to scan every piece — like anyone is asking for that anyway.) You can get delivery confirmation, but that only tells you that the package has or has not arrived, but not where it is. I’m not worried about people saying they didn’t get their order when they really did, so that doesn’t help. And I doubt that that little tag with the bar code leads the post office to handle those pieces any more carefully. (I once sent something certified mail and they didn’t ever scan it so I got no information and they were completely unrepentant. I know the person I talked to about it WASN’T sorry, but couldn’t they have SAID “sorry” anyway?) The only service that includes actual tracking is Express Mail, which of course is much more expensive, particularly outside the US. We could switch to UPS — UPS tracks everything — but it also costs quite a bit more than ordinary mail, plus UPS is particularly destructive, so everything would have to go in boxes which adds to the cost of shipping, and would make the packages heavier, which adds again to the cost of shipping. And UPS outside North America is absurdly expensive.

Maybe there’s something I’m missing about why tracking has to cost so much. But it seems to me that there’s a business opportunity for someone to offer non-express shipping of small packages with tracking at a reasonable price. I would think that the Postal Service intends to force people to use Express Mail if they want tracking, except they don’t make it at all clear that that’s the case.

And back to the original problem — a package I shipped to Canada on November 16 arrived, finally, on December 30. Not to some village on the Arctic Circle — to a city. The reshipment sent on December 15 hasn’t arrived yet. I know there’s snow in the midwest, and the holidays are just over, but that is ridiculous.

One Response to “The sorry truth about tracking”
  1. From Rifestitch
    10 years, 9 months ago

    You would think it would be in the service’s best interest to know where a package was at any given moment, too, wouldn’t you? It’s not like barcode technology isn’t dirt cheap now, and someone has to handle each piece anyway, so what if they have to handle it in such a manner as to allow the barcode to be read? From my experience, FedEx can tell you where something is at all times, and what you are paying for is the next-day part; remove the next-day part, and that’s USPS, isn’t it? And the money I’ve been spending at the USPS lately, sending round robins out – I could almost be FedExing stuff.

    I had a check mailed to me (payment from a parent for our December soccer tourney) on December 11th. It arrived January 5th. After they’d had to write me another check to get their portion of the tourney paid for. It was supposed to be in the same county the whole time, and all my Christmas stuff out of state arrived on time – what’s the deal???

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