Ranty McRantsalot on: Tracking numbers

I buy a lot of stuff online, so I get a lot of emails alerting me that my items have shipped, and here is a handy tracking number to follow their progress to me. Sounds great and super useful.

The problem is, if you click on the tracking number soon after you receive an email notification about it, your first impression is one of failure. For the first several hours, you usually get an error that tracking info can’t be found yet for that number. Later that day, it will usually update to “electronic billing information received” which tells you one computer at the retailer talked to another computer at the shipment company, but not much else. Several (unknown number, you have to guess) days later, the tracking info showing destinations left and the highly coveted “OUT FOR DELIVERY” status appears.

I’m a person that responds pretty fast to email and I keep a fairly short window for things sitting in my inbox (typically less than a day, so it’s zero at the end of the day), so that first day, tracking number emails are essentially useless. When they do have useful data several days later, it requires a search of my archived mail to turn them up and I have to remember to check on the packages days later.

Don’t get me wrong, tracking info for the shipment of packages is a great and useful thing, but the user experience of the first time you click on a tracking number link is almost always a disappointment. Is there anything we can do to make the first impression of tracking numbers a useful one?

11 Comments

  • Virtually every package I get is delivered exactly on time and as expected – why can’t the shipping company just show us the expected route? I’d love to know ahead of time that my shoes are going from phoenix to kansas city on friday before expected delivery on tuesday. I probably wouldn’t check back unless it doesn’t show up (or unless they are super awesome back-to-the-future shoes) thus saving the company bandwidth.

  • I use gmail, and an inbound label for stuff I haven’t yet received.
    When I get that shipment notification, I slap the label on it and archive it. When it arrives, I take it off.
    label:inbound shows me everything I care about.
    I use a similar system for all kinds of stuff-I-care-about-later things– sometimes with auto-application of the label.

  • For help with the remembering-to-check-back-later bit, I use the Delivery Status Widget. It can track the status of packages (as well as the status of orders from certain stores, from order placement to packing to shipping to actual package tracking) and can also put up Growl alerts when something new happens.

  • My peeve is shipping status pages that don’t show what it is or where it’s from. If you’re like me (and possibly Matt), you’ve got a bunch of things coming at the same time, and it quickly becomes impossible to tell which is which.
    Woe is the life of the conspicuous consumer.

  • Have you considered “Bit Literacy” by Mark Hurst (http://bitliteracy.com/) and Gootodo (http://goodexperience.com/2005/10/introducing-gootodo-a-bitliter.php)?

  • I’ll echo the pointer to Gootodo.com. I’m biased, since it’s my site, but it does exactly what you’re looking for. Just forward the ecommerce receipt to a future day (tomorrow@gootodo.com, 2days@gootodo.com, whatever) and then forget about it. When that day rolls around – and thus the receipt becomes relevant – you’ll see it on your list.

  • Even worse than this is the email/sms notifcations that UPS and FedEx offers. I usually sign up for them, hoping for up-to-the minute updates. In reality it means I get an email the day after a package arrives, telling me nothing. Web 2.0, it ain’t.

  • I think the future is some mashup of RFID, GPS, and Google Earth. Search RFID package tracking and you get some idea where this is headed

  • As someone who has to coordinate shipments from time to time, I can explain this a bit. Companies that ship things as a matter of regularity—including my company—get a pad of slips with tracking numbers pre-assigned to them. As a result, I can give you a tracking number for, say, a piece of flight hardware I’m sending FedEx overnight to Kennedy Space Center by 3:30 p.m. that day, but it probably doesn’t actually get into FedEx’s tracking system until 7:00 p.m. that night.
    Like Evan, I’m a Delivery Status Widget guy, combining its awesomeness with Growl [I make those notification sticky so I see the change later], but I also make a conscious choice to ignore the tracking number for the first six hours or so.

  • Shoots, I just always make a temporary bookmarklet so that I have one-click access to the status. Wouldn’t scale if I had more than 3 or 4 items shipping simultaneously.
    I sure like that Delivery Status widget, though…
    (PS…is your OpenID thingy borked?)

  • I’d be happy if they would show the point of origin – so if your company gets a big pad of tracking slips, UPS or whoever records where that pad should be located, and at least says “billing information received – anywhere, usa” or whatever to give you an idea of where the item will ship from. I can usually use that information to ballpark how long it will take to get to my house, depending on the carrier, which also translates into waiting X number of days before checking on it again.
    This whole topic is of course valid whitewhine material.

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