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February 19th, 2004

Comparing Shippers Tracking

A few weeks back, I ordered items from three different companies that were each delivered by a different shipper. One came USPS, one came UPS, and the third came via FedEx. They all arrived promptly enough, but I was able to get a pretty good comparison and each major shipper’s online tracking capabilities. My impressions:

UPS: UPS tracking hasn’t changed much in the last few years, which is to say that it remains pretty accurate and easy to use. I was able to keep a close eye on where the package was throughout its journey. In the past I’ve actually found out online that my package had been delivered before the person at the front desk of my work called to tell me I had a delivery, but this time the “delivered” note on the UPS site came up 20 minutes after the fact. Still, not too shabby.

FedEx: FedEx’s tracking capabilities are similar to UPS’ except they seem to update slightly less frequently. FedEx’s site was updated within a few minutes after they had delivered my package and gave a bit more information than UPS’s did (who signed for it). Again, a good showing.

USPS: The US Postal Service is kind of an interesting case. Their tracking is practically worthless… for days all I saw was a notice that they had “received notice to expect the package for shipping” and only shortly before I received it did I see any sort of change in the tracking information. But the USPS offers one option that the other two shippers don’t (as far as I can tell): e-mail updates. Sure, with UPS and FedEx you can e-mail the current update to someone, but you can’t get an update each time the delivery status changes. Of course, I signed up for this option with the USPS but didn’t receive any e-mail notices until after my package had arrived. Not terribly useful.

FedEx and UPS both offer pretty much everything one could want in package tracking, including an estimated delivery date (though FedEx continues to deliver early if they can while UPS will almost always hold onto your package even if it’s at the local delivery office early). If they were just able to offer e-mail updates (or an RSS feed!) for package tracking, they’d have it all.

Posted in Consumer Commentary

FROM: Paul
DATE: Thursday February 19, 2004 -- 10:32:55 am
Agreed. What I want is a service from UPS or FedEx that will email me the instant the status of my package changes. And something 37signals pointed out a while back is that UPS's messages aren't totally clear ("Departure Scan," e.g.) and could use a little work.

USPS online tracking is worthless. So is calling a search for your local post office "Find MyPostOffice™."

FROM: Greg
DATE: Thursday February 19, 2004 -- 11:58:14 am
How can you talk about these shipping companies without mentioning, in general, how nice the delivery people are. It's one thing to get a package quickly and in good condition but all three usually have nice, friendly people deliver those packages.

FROM: Ace High [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday February 19, 2004 -- 12:54:19 pm
Howard Stern pointed out that if Donald Trump of some other private enterprise were in charge of the mail, it would cost less and be more efficient.

FROM: Paul
DATE: Thursday February 19, 2004 -- 2:38:41 pm
That's a good point, Greg. Our UPS fellow is quite nice.

FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday February 19, 2004 -- 6:00:56 pm
Agreed, Greg... I have yet to meet a grouchy delivery person.

FROM: Cat [E-Mail]
DATE: Friday February 20, 2004 -- 9:17:52 am
I just bought something to be shipped usps, and got this from the seller:

"Please note that this is not a tracking number. Delivery Confirmation service confirms delivery date and time. While en route scans may be provided when
available, they are not a feature of Delivery Confirmation service. If en
route scans are provided for your shipment, your delivery confirmation
number can be searched at "

Maybe this has something to do with it?

Oh, and if private enterprise ran usps, it would have been bailed out by the government six times by now. We do, after all, have one of the best mail systems in the world--one of the only government agencies that funds itself.

FROM: Paul
DATE: Friday February 20, 2004 -- 9:32:49 am
Yeah, that's definitely part of it, Cat. The other is all of those AOL discs that one can get at the Post Office. Plus, last time I was there just last week, I was amazed at the cross-selling with The Cat in the Hat - they actually had special movie shipping packages. Oh, boy! Take your kids!

Giving people non-tracking numbers isn't so hot.

FROM: SuperJason [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday December 23, 2004 -- 8:20:12 am
I wrote a UPS RSS feed to get tracking updates as they are published. The details can be found here:

I may add Fedex, DHL, and USPS later.

FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday December 23, 2004 -- 5:30:15 pm
Great, SuperJason! Very useful stuff...

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