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USPS: Track me if you can

14 Jul 2004 by Jason Fried

So, I’m waiting on a shipment that was sent via the US Postal Service. I went to their tracking page, entered my 22-digit tracking number, and got this in return:

usps tracking

Key items:

“Your item was accepted at…”

Yet, the package hasn’t been delivered to my location. So it’s been both “accepted” and there’s been an “arrival,” but none of these have anything to do with actual delivery. Now, I wouldn’t be so critical if these details weren’t so ambiguous. What is the “Unit” that it arrived at? Where was it “accepted?” And, finally, when can I expect delivery? UPS, FedEx, DHL, and Airborne all provide estimated delivery dates (which help set expectations and reduce “package anxiety”).

The USPS needs to be a much better job setting expectations by sharpening their language and providing more context in order to reduce confusion. This is what we mean when we talk about Experience Design. Clear language and copywriting can make all the difference in the world.

6 comments so far (Post a Comment)

14 Jul 2004 | Mike Carter said...

I was thinking the very same thoughts the other day. Horrible terminology. I had no idea when my package was going to arrive.

14 Jul 2004 | Eby said...

I've seen this on a few forms I've used. I think one of the problems is that some businesses don't address who their audience is and use the same terminology that the internal workers use. Most people aren't going to know the jargon.

14 Jul 2004 | SH said...

Oddly, I'm going through the same ambiguous crap with USPS for a package shipped priority (aka "2 day") mail last Friday. Still haven't recieved it, and their brilliant tracking program tells me, "The U.S. Postal Service was electronically notified by the shipper and shipping partner on July 09, 2004 to expect your package for mailing. Information, if available, is updated every evening. Please check again later."

I've been checking again later since Monday. No telling where the package is, who the supposed "shipping partner" is, if it's been shipped, when i'm going to get it, etc. But I can say, in the slightest defense of their system, it does say you'll get info, "...*if available.*"

I suppose when you *choose* USPS, like I did, you can't really complain.

14 Jul 2004 | Dave Marks said...

I recently purchased some batteries from an excellent site. i couldn't fault it until i came to checkout and it asked for a "Power Token" with no indication of what it was.

I promtly took a screenshot and fired off an email to the company, complimented them and then pointed this little problem, explained i was a web developer and had just read your great book, and suggested they might find it useful - all with the most possible tact.

Not had a reply - look forward to my next order, see if they changed anything ;)

I'm sure it means a lot to their workers, but jargon is no good even for me :)

15 Jul 2004 | Jeff Rickard said...

Had a similar experience today, in fact. I had actually ordered gourmet ice cream via the web ( just to see what it was like. Obviously, time is of the essence when shipping ice cream. It's even more of the essence when receiving the ice cream, despite being packaged in dry ice. Not only that, but I was anxiously awaiting said ice cream. So, I was tracking and tracking and seeing all the "arrival" and "accepted" terms, and thinking, I have no idea where this thing is other than "in Atlanta."

I was home all day, waiting (even waited to shower to make sure I didn't miss it). Turns out, it was outside the door--nobody ever knocked--sitting in the sun since 9:30. Luckily, technology is amazing and it was frozen solid, still. But I still wasn't sure looking at the tracking information. Thank goodness I decided to look outside the door.

15 Jul 2004 | Christophe Pettus said...

The USPS is, in most ways, a 1945-era operation attempting to compete in a 2004 environment. The last major innovation in their core logistics processes was the introduction of Air Mail. I am not making this up.

In 1995 or so, I had a conversation with a business analyst at UPS. At the time UPS did not offer full-visibility tracking on ground shipments as part of the basic service. His argument was that it was not required; since 99.75% of UPS ground shipments are delivered on time, why do you need it? I explained that customers want it: it helps their confidence in the shipment, and it helps them plan their lives. Nothing frustrates customers faster than feeling out of control of a process on which they've invested time and money.

Within a couple of years, all UPS ground shipments were fully trackable.

Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a USPS senior account manager. I explained that the lack of full-visibility tracking on Priority Mail was a big problem. He said, "But 99% of our Priority Mail packages arrive on time. Why do you need it?" A very awkward pause followed.

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