When the USPS Confirms Delivery Sometimes There’s Nothing There

This post is for buyers and sellers of goods through the mail, specifically those sending or receiving their goods via USPS using Delivery Confirmation. I'm putting it here in the midst of my Classic Movie articles because despite all of the information I try to give you in that regard this is primarily an ecommerce site and I always ship via USPS.

I wouldn't be writing about this except it's now happened twice in the span of a few weeks. I know this won't be news to some of my more experienced e-commerce friends, but my hope is that it is found by buyers of all levels and sellers who haven't experienced it and hopefully it will save them a few moments of panic. I've got 11 years of online selling under my belt and have shipped somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 packages in that time yet both of these incidents still made me nervous.

Thankfully in each case the buyer on the other end of my transaction was a repeat customer whom I'd already had an established relationship with. I was (hopefully) able to make them feel better about the outcome of our transaction in advance of their actually receiving the package because there was already some level of trust established, but I can only imagine how badly the next time might go if such an incident occurs with a brand new customer who doesn't yet have any reason for trust beyond my reputation.

Simply put, USPS Delivery Confirmation is meaningless. I suppose many of you know that, but I don't think as many are aware of why I'm going to say it's useless. First here's what I suspect you think: the tracking offered by the USPS with their Delivery Confirmation service offers no protection to the buyer or seller of the goods unless the package is insured. Without insurance the USPS doesn't want to talk to you. I know, I've been told exactly that in phone conversations before.

But that's not the problem here.

One other common Delivery Confirmation complaint which is not the specific problem I'm working up to, but is a symptom of that problem, is the fact that information on the Delivery Confirmation web pages is generally not updated until after the package is delivered. If you haven't received your package yet and are wondering where it is, chances are that when you type that Delivery Confirmation number into the USPS website the only information you're going to see is that the package was scheduled for pick-up in your seller's local home town and if you're lucky you may be somewhat soothed by a second line declaring that the package was checked into your seller's local post office later that same day or the following day. The few times that I've seen any further update prior to actual delivery have only been when there are problems with the delivery: for instance it reaches the buyer's home town post office and then no further information is posted for a week as the package is trapped in some sort of postal purgatory.

My specific problem though, and again, I've had this happen twice in the past several weeks is when Delivery Confirmation states DELIVERED and correctly lists the buyer's home town, state and zip with a time of delivery. In these two recent instances the package was not yet received by my buyers. Now I'm assuming this has happened more than twice to me, but I notice that in both of these cases the orders were for amounts in the $80-$120 range and so my buyers were very likely more anxious to know where their goods were than somebody who bought something for $5. They understandably followed the tracking, after all, that's what it's there for, no?

I say no and I say it emphatically after these two experiences.

Compare the USPS Delivery Confirmation to UPS tracking. I've been at my desk and tracked a UPS package that was listed as being "Out for Delivery" that day. I've heard someone at my door and rather than getting up to check the mail I've simply refreshed my UPS tracking screen and seen that the package is now listed as "Delivered." I get up and lo and behold, there's my delivered package. The UPS driver actually scanned the package when he dropped it on my stoop and throughout my package's UPS journey it has been physically scanned at every stop along the way keeping me apprised of its exact whereabouts if I decide to check the tracking before it arrives.

Now I've never worked for nor seen the inside track of any package on a UPS or USPS route so please keep in my mind that what follows is my assumption, but one I feel pretty sure about. The USPS isn't scanning their packages nearly as often and by my best guess what has happened with each of my packages confirmed as delivered, but nowhere to be found by the buyer, is that they are scanned when they either arrive at the buyer's local post office or perhaps when they are sorted and loaded onto the truck for delivery that day. Whatever point it occurs this final scan is coming before actual delivery yet it is stating that the package is not only "Out for Delivery" but "Delivered." If my buyer's mail carrier has a heavy load that day it might not be delivered.

In both of my recent cases of missing packages I was able to take a deep breath and tell my buyer that I was nearly certain they'd receive their package the very next day. Thankfully in both cases I was absolutely correct.

This is not fair to either the person sending the package or receiving the package. Can you imagine waiting for your $100 purchase, see the official USPS site says you should have it, yet you have nothing? I'd be pretty upset and yes, my buyers were upset. Thankfully in each instance they realized this was the post office's fault and not mine, but in each case they were already pretty sure that they were never going to see their goods. It's unfair to the sender because in my personal case, despite being rather sure the packages would arrive the next day, my position is that a buyer who pays me must receive their goods. Well, my packages were uninsured, so if they didn't eventually show up guess who's going to lose money? Here's a hint, not the USPS.

The only reasons I pay for Delivery Confirmation is because the charge is minimal and I believe that nearly 100% of the time it gives piece of mind to both myself and my customer in that we can come close to pinpointing where our package is in its journey. While I was actually aided by the incorrect Delivery information the USPS gave in these two recent examples, it's not a good sign that the only reason I knew what was going on was because I was so sure of their incompetence*. I was only able to decipher the code because I knew the service is broken! My two buyers, bless 'em, stayed with me because of my reputation and despite the USPS's reputation and to be honest I'm not sure either really believed me until their package showed up the next day!

*I will add that despite problems such as this my experience is that the USPS does manage to eventually get everything where it has to go. It's just that the journey is not sometimes without trepidation and in the examples of this post, needlessly so.

I don't want this post to seem like another empty complaint so I will offer two suggestions for USPS and their Delivery Confirmation service:
1) Scrap it
or
2) Fix it.

After this happened for the second time this weekend I figured I either really hit the jackpot in being the only guy who's had this problem not once, but twice, or far more likely others are seeing it too. I post this simply to offer an explanation to buyer and seller alike that all will most likely be well tomorrow. Sellers if you experience a false Delivery Confirmation please feel free to send your buyer here to read about what likely happened--it might help calm things down and I do like the traffic to my site.

A final unrelated word. I don't want this post to be taken as a complete criticism of the USPS or especially its mail carriers--in fact I absolutely love my own mail carrier. I've used the USPS all these years for all of those thousands of packages because I feel they are the best shipping solution for my needs. Doesn't mean that they're perfect. Making Delivery Confirmation mean something would be a great step towards an overall better service. After all, the packages are being scanned, I'm just asking the proper information actually be relayed along the way.

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Comments

  1. says

    I use USPS for everything, mostly because of their carrier pickups and lower prices than UPS and Fedex. Their “delivery confirmation” is definitely frustrating, especially for International shipments. Concerning your main argument, with which I completely agree, perhaps that is why it is much cheaper than the other carriers and note that they call it “delivery confirmation” as opposed to “tracking” like the other guys.

    Best, Tommy

  2. says

    Mailed an overnight letter by USPS on Sunday to be delivered on Monday on a Business, 4 hours round trip from my home. USPS tried to deliver on Monday at 5 AM, didn’t find anybody, kidnapped my letter at theirs post office giving me 5 days to make 4 hours round trip to get back the letter or send back to me after 5 days. The letter was time sensitive and destination was a business, and BUSINESS HOURS ARE 0800 to 1630 or 0900 to 1700. What kind of dead brain sheep morons are USPS employee, going out of business hours, to make deliveries at Business at 1AM, 2AM, 3AM, 4AM 5AM and tell you that there was nobody. I do not care for $13.25 I paid. The damage they inflicted to me is much bigger. Government is doing nothing, they are looking other way. Next time I will drive 4 hours and deliver my letter by myself.

  3. Wickster14 says

    i shipped a laptop to passaic, nj. delivery confirmation. tracking said out for delivery on the 9th of jan. then it says no further details available. it is the 30 of jan passaic post office can not find the package. i know it did not disappear. i hear i have no recourse . what is the purpose of filling out forms at your local p.o. and all that if they do nothing. why should i have to pay for a service that was not done?

    • says

      Yes, I’ve been told a few times myself that unless actual insurance is purchased there’s not a thing that can be done. Was it an eBay or PayPal transaction? The Delivery Confirmation may come in handy then through their Seller Protection (PayPal here and eBay here) though I’ve never had to file so I can’t be sure how much it will help. But as for the USPS, no guarantees are offered which I’ve always found somewhere between off-putting and irresponsible on their part. Terrible being at their mercy, best of luck!

  4. Jillian says

    Unfortunate to come across this article from over a year ago, as I feel the USPS’s “Delivery Confirmation” is actually getting worse.  I never had a problem with it until a few months ago, when packages started being marked as “Delivered” and yet there was nothing on my doorstep.  They would show up one or two days later, but I’m still baffled why it seems that as of late any time a package makes its way onto my mail carrier’s truck–“Out for delivery”–she cannot manage to get it into my hands.  Makes me believe that not only is the “Delivered” portion incorrect, but the “Out for delivery” (and maybe even more steps before it) is off, as well.  

    • says

       @621c8d725bebd7d25803edc59118264a:disqus I agree, it’s probably all off. USPS doesn’t do a great job at explaining this but from past phone calls they’ve made it explicitly clear to me–delivery confirmation is not intended as tracking. To them the name of the service implies exactly what it says, confirmation of delivery. It’s unfortunate to hear that they still don’t have even that part of it nailed down correctly.

  5. ericfark says

    i have received many packages from usps and i normally dont look through the tracking info. but this time i ordered a product with a purchase price of over $1000. and im very worried about them loosing it and me never getting it. there site says it departed from a sort facility about 9 hours from my house and has a delivery date for tomorrow which is 5 business days from the day it was “shipped” i already had problems getting the seller to ship my item on time. so here is my actual question…when usps predicts a delivery date, is it anywhere close to accurate? will i receive a package when im told i will?

    • says

      Hi @ericfark. While there are no guarantees I find the USPS has been better at matching their predicted tracking info in the time since I wrote this article. I would think there’s a very good chance your package will be delivered on Monday or, if there’s a glitch with the tracking, Tuesday. With a package of that value be sure to look for a slip noting an attempted delivery in case your seller insured the package and it needs to be signed for–if you’re at work or not home the mail carrier will leave the slip instead and you can either arrange for re-delivery or pick it up in person at the local mail facility. Good luck!

  6. Mark says

    Hello, and thanks for your comments here… I had the same thing happen to me today… A package from China was shown delivered, but no package… I live in an apt. bldg., and the postal person always brings stuff up to my door and rings the doorbell or knocks, then leaves it at my door… Well, today I was home all day, and no knock or ring… And no package… But it shows as being ‘delivered,’ which really ticked me off… Because if I contacted the seller, and he/she checked the tracking #, and it showed delivered, they’ve done their part of the business… And I’d be screwed out of my money… Anyway, it’s somewhat reassuring that it might still be delivered, even though they already show it as being delivered… I kinda see the postman scanning it beforehand, and not having the time to actually deliver it, which shouldn’t be done, really… I definitely think they need to get their act together on the tracking thing… Total turn-off… (m.)

  7. Sze H. says

    Ok, I’m kind of late posting to this article, but hey, what the heck. I’m in the same boat as many of those before me; recently I ordered two items line, two separate orders/websites/time frames. Both listed as “delivered” on the USPS tracking webpage. And yet, I got nothing. NOTHING!!! After reading this article, I’m a bit relieved, I guess? That whatever is happening to my orders, I’m not the only one. Guess the only thing I can do is wait. My question is, on average how soon is the package actually delivered after the “delivery date” listed in the confirmation?

    • says

      Hi Sze,

      At the time I wrote this packages would show up one delivery day after they were supposed to.

      It’s been a couple of years now and I’ve found the delivery confirmation service much improved in that time. If it’s been more than a couple of days I’d probably call USPS and see if they can provide any help though.

      Good luck, Cliff

      • Anonymous says

        @ Sze: I got my ‘delivered’ notice on a Monday, and the item showed up at my door on the following Friday. But at least it DID show up. (m.)

  8. Anonymous says

    I live in South Korea. My sister sent me a package via USPS and it’s showed as delivered as of 5/14. I live on a foreign compound so sometimes it will be left at the main office but it wasn’t there either. I’m glad to know that it may show up in a few days but it ticks me off that it’s showed as delivered.

    • says

      Hoping that it has arrived, Anonymous! All bets seem to be off with International packages. I just had one make it to its customer in Germany today … 43 days after I shipped it (and 2 days before escalating my insurance claim!). 99% of my international shipments seem to arrive as quickly as anything I send inside the US, but there can be a heck of a lag for that remaining 1%. Good luck!

  9. Rick says

    I dislike USPS. I had much better experiences with Fed Ex and UPS. I always had problems with USPS. Packages don’t arrive, people in the post office are rude and don’t want to help you. They just blame it on you. I wish no one would use USPS. They are horrendous.

    • says

      Rick,

      I can’t disagree with much of what you say, though I will say that I’m impressed with their rate of overall package delivery. They’re not always on time (though usually are), but my packages always seem to get where they’re going or, worst case, properly returned to sender.

      Nowadays most of my delivery problems come from European customs offices, so I’m mostly satisfied with USPS itself.

      Cliff

  10. Mark says

    K I have been reading a lot of different things on somewhat the same topic since yesterday. Ordered a phone for my wife off E-bay was tracking it everything looked good. Made it to my post office 2 blocks away was “out for delivery” Nov2. Saturday. Mail comes no package. Figured, OK maybe Monday. Well before Monday hit, 14 hours after saying out for delivery it status changed to “Delivery status not updated”. It didn’t show up Monday the 4th either. Now its the 5th its my wife’s birthday and I’m waiting on this mail man again hoping that my package didn’t just fall off the end of the Earth from just 2 blocks away.

    Ever hear of this problem and did they receive there package at all?

    Some things I have read have said that the mailman delivered and forgot to scan. Well that sucks because I don’t want to look like some sort of con trying to get something free. I already informed the seller of what was going on and called my local post office twice because the first time they did not get back with me. All I have heard is well it had to be in someones hands here once. Uh DUH!!!

    • Mark says

      Well the lady at the post office called me back. Said the mail man has my package and it will be delivered today!!!! Guess the end of the Earth isn’t just to blocks from my house:)

      • says

        Mark,

        Glad to hear this is going to turn out well. Wonder if it was an insured package that they needed a signature on? Thanks for sharing your story–I do hope it arrived safely!

        Cliff

  11. Dave says

    Same thing happened to me yesterday, bought some items from a forum I frequent and USPS website and automated phone line both say it was delivered, well we checked the mail about 10 mins after and yeah we have mail but no package. Unfortunately I called the postal service number about 10 mins before they were due to close and sat on the phone for 50 mins before I decided to hang up and just call when they open again today. Hopefully I’ll get some answers on where the hell my package is and why it isn’t in my possession. We have even bern having problems with our normal mail getting delivered to the wrong houses and sent mail getting lost, its complete horse shit and there’s no excuse for it. I’ll try to update when I figure out what happened.

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