Having your package going missing somewhere along the line of transit with the United States Postal Service is never something we expect – but unfortunately, it happens every now and again to people every day. It’s important to remember that the USPS is handling literally millions and millions of packages on a daily basis, moving them across the state, or clear across the country.
With this kind of package volume of minor miracle that the overwhelming majority of USPS packages find their way to their ultimate destination as quickly or as consistently as they do, really! Still, that’s little comfort if you are trying to figure out where your package is when it’s gone a couple of days beyond the estimated delivery date and it seems to be sitting in some sort of limbo.
That’s where this quick guide comes into play.
Below we cover:
- How the USPS tracking system works
- How you can take advantage of more advanced tracking tools
- What the different tracking messages mean and
- What to do if your package is really missing
Ready to get right into it? Let’s do this!
USPS – Where is My Package?
Each and every day, the USPS handles about 20.5 million packages through their infrastructure – either moving them from one USPS location next or delivering them to customers across the country. This spikes a little higher during the holiday season, with the post office reporting that they regularly deliver nearly 30 million packages in the month of December – being particularly busy in the last week before Christmas.
That’s a lot of packages! With all those packages zipping around the country regular basis it’s not unexpected that some of them might go missing every now and again. According to the USPS, about 1.5% of the packages that they handle may go missing somewhere going transit – but the overwhelming majority of those packages are later found and then moved on to their final destination (even if they are delayed).
A number of major improvements to the USPS tracking system and how it works internally has helped to cut that number dramatically, and today you’re far less likely to have to worry about your package getting lost than ever before.
Better Understanding the USPS Tracking System
The USPS takes advantage of a similar tracking system is the one used by both FedEx and UPS, helping to streamline their system significantly while also improving the accuracy of updates and the trackability of everything that moves through their system. Much of the process is automated from start to finish, with a tracking number for your package and parcel created even before the USPS actually brings your package into the system.
The tracking number itself is attached to a barcode to make for even easier scanning, and that barcode is often tied to larger USPS shipment “blocks” so that every package in a block gets updated with the same alert when it arrives at a new shipping facility. This approach allows the United States Postal Service to “scan” millions of packages every day without having to scan each and every package individually. Instead, batch updates are made when each pallet gets scanned, updating information across all of the individual barcodes that were attached to that block.
USPS Track and Manage Tools
The post office offers a variety track and manage tools that are available 100% free of charge, including a simple tracking search bar that they have on their website. All you have to do is punch your tracking number into the search bar itself and the USPS will comb its internal database to find that package, find its current location and active status, and return that information to you ASAP.
From start to finish those searches usually take less than the second, providing you with very fast and accurate information that you can actually use. Create a free account on the USPS website, though, and will gain access to even more tools you might find useful. Tools like more in-depth information about where your package is and where it has gone, when your package is expected to be delivered, and rerouting, hold, or new delivery plans for your package, too.
The tools you’ll have available to change, reroute, or hold your package will be highly dependent on the current active status of your package. But they update through the USPS system quite quickly, allowing you to have a lot more control over when your package arrives at its ultimate destination than you would have had otherwise.
USPS Informed Delivery
Informed Delivery is another great tool available 100% free of charge from the USPS that gives you a better idea of where your packages (and all of your regular mail, too) are at any one particular point in time. After signing up for your account and verify your address the USPS will send you an email each and every morning with digital scans of every piece of mail you have coming to your address that day.
Not only will you get digital scans of envelopes, packages, and parcels included in this daily digest, but you also get tracking information or any of the packages you are having routed through the USPS to your address as well. On top of that, Informed Delivery creates a permanent record of all the pieces of mail delivered over the last two weeks. That should help you stay a lot more organized with your mailbox, too.
USPS Tracking Messages to Know About
It’s important to understand what the different USPS tracking messages you have pop up when you punch in your tracking number mean, giving you a better idea of where your package is but also giving you more insight into when it will be delivered in the future. Here are a couple of the most common messages you’re likely to receive when you are using USPS tracking tools:
IN TRANSIT – This message is going to pop up when your package is being transported between two different USPS facilities (sometimes different post offices, but most of the time it means moving through a USPS processing facility). Always a good message to see, it means that your package is on the move and is actively being transported throughout the post office infrastructure.
It’s not at all uncommon to see this tracking message pop up multiple times when you search for your tracking number, either. That just means it’s been moved through another sorting facility or another post office and is working its way to its ultimate destination.
DELIVERY STATUS NOT UPDATED – This update is (somewhat) rare, letting you know that your package has in fact arrived at the post office for delivery – and maybe even transported onto the truck for delivery – but hasn’t yet been scanned and updated with a current delivery status.
99.9% of the time this message is going to be followed up by another message that will clue you in about the delivery status, though sometimes you’ll find a package on your doorstep or in your mailbox with this message still showing prominently on your tracking information.
At the end of the day, though, if you see this message the odds are pretty good that your package is going to be delivered either that day or in the next two or three business days.
RECEPTACLE BLOCKED – If, for one reason or another, the USPS mail carrier responsible for bringing your package to your door is unable to access your mailbox (or even just your address) this is the kind of message that you are most likely going to find your in your tracking information.
A lot of extra vehicles in your driveway, utility trucks in the area, downed power lines, and a whole host of other problems completely out of your control (as well as out-of-control of the USPS) can lead to your mail receptacle being blocked and delivery delayed. Sometimes you’ll be able to pop down to the local post office and pickup your package that same day, but a lot of people simply wait until the next delivery day for their package to arrive.
NO ACCESS – This tracking update is similar to the one above, and it basically just means that the USPS wasn’t able to access the delivery location. Again, there can be a bunch of different reasons this happens (out of your control) but it’s good to know that the USPS will attempt delivery again the next day.
NOTICE LEFT – If the package that you are having shipped to your door requires a signature for one reason or another, but no one was home to sign for that package, the USPS mail carrier delivering it will leave a notice to alert you of this fact. Instead of the package being delivered to your door you’ll have a notification in your mailbox or near your front door letting you know that delivery was attempted but wasn’t able to be completed.
From there you can either opt out to your local post office (assuming they are still open that day) and sign for the package and receive it that way, or you can simply wait until the next day and try to be sure someone is around to sign for that package.
DELIVERED – This is the message we all love to see, the message that lets us know that our package has finally arrived at our doorstep! The chances are good you’ll find your packages near your front door for your mailbox, though (if you have a new mail carrier) you may find them in locations you warrant necessarily expecting.
Make sure to check any potential spots if your regular drop-off location doesn’t have your package before contacting USPS customer service about a missing package.
What to Do If Your Package is Missing
If, on the other hand, your package really is missing then you’re going to need to contact USPS customer service and support ASAP. You might need to pop down to your local post office and straighten things out there (they can usually be very helpful, often times providing faster service than the traditional USPS customer service department can), though you might have to call customer service directly for more help. This department can be contacted Monday through Friday, 8 AM through 8:30 PM EST as well as on Saturday from 8 AM to 6 PM EST. You’ll be able to reach them by dialing 1-800-275-8777.
Initiate a USPS Mail Search
The first thing you’re going to want to do if your package is missing is to initiate a USPS Mail Search request. This can be done for the customer service hotline we mentioned above, but you can also started at your local post office as well.
After providing your name, address, and tracking information (as well as a general description of your package) the USPS will then initiate a systemwide search for your package and parcel. If they find the package, it will get forwarded on to you ASAP (usually via overnight delivery with no extra cost to you). If they do not find the package, however, you’re going to have to move forward with filing a claim.
What to Do If Your Package is Confirmed Lost
If the USPS notifies you that your package is confirmed to be lost you’re going to have to go through the claims process. Again, this can be done through the USPS website (after creating a free account) or a claim can be initiated over the phone with customer service or at your local post office.
The important thing is you need to file your claim within 60 days of your package being sent to you. Any delay beyond that may prevent you from being able to actually initiate the claim, causing all kinds of headache and hassle for you. The claim form through the USPS is super streamlined and uniform across the board, and the claims is generally pretty simple and straightforward. Your request a refund for not only the shipping you paid but also the value of your item and that claim will go through the USPS infrastructure from there.
If approved, you can expect a claim payment in anywhere between two weeks to six weeks (and sometimes a little longer than that). If denied, though, you can file two appeals – and original appeal and then an appeal of that decision if it doesn’t go your way. It’s possible to negotiate with USPS during this process to receive a partial claim, too.
Forget Package Problems Forever with US Global Mail’s Virtual Mailbox Service
Of course, you could eliminate a lot of headache and a lot of hassle with missing mail pieces by simply changing your mail service to US Global Mail and their virtual mailbox. Providing you with a permanent street address that you can use no matter how often you move (or where you move to), US Global Mail provides:
- Full package acceptance from all major carriers (something USPS does not provide the PO Boxes)
- Digital mail scanning of every package and parcel as soon as it hits your virtual mailbox
- Notifications about those packages and parcels in real time
- The ability to forward those packages and parcels to any address on the planet at up to 80% off of traditional retail rates
… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
For more about US Global Mail and all it has to offer, visit their website or contact them directly today!