Data glitches in USPS Informed Delivery tracking

The issue

USPS "Informed Delivery" is a tracking service provided by the USPS. People who use it find it convenient to see the progress of a shipment and the updated estimates of delivery. Like most on-line tracking services, USPS Informed Delivery is layered on top of the carrier's internal logistics tracking system. In addition, there are some internal USPS procedures that generate incongruous results.

"Informed Delivery" is layered on top of the USPS's rather complex logistics tracking program, and therefore has glitches that suggest such things as failed delivery attempts, but which are routine exceptions in the delivery process. They're really (nominally) entertaining once you realise that some of these are routine logistics notes. People who have substantial experience with these Informed Delivery reports, including the errors and "warnings" that appear in the reports know which ones to ignore, but if you are not used to seeing warnings such as "package refused", you could expect that the shipment will not arrive.

So here are some of the common quirks in USPS Informed Delivery tracking.

The USPS procedure

USPS tracking used in Informed Delivery is initiated by the creation of a tracking number. The tracking number may be generated by the creation of a shipping label, for example by a USPS shipping label app or a third party app, e.g., eBay's shipping app. Anyone with the tracking number can track the package, but if one is subscribed to USPS Informed Delivery, the tracking number will automatically become included on packages associated with one's delivery address.

As mentioned above, Informed Delivery tracking is layered on top of USPS' internal logistics tracking. This is important because if a package is not scanned or tracked, the unscanned tracking event will not appear on an Informed Delivery report untill it reaches a USPS facility where the package is again scanned. A typical unscanned event is a long distance shipping event.

The result is one may see something like:

Creation of a shipping label.
Often this is automated, so it is possible that a shipping label may exist before the shipment is packeged.

Shipment Received, Package Acceptance Pending

Acceptance by USPS
(not sure why that's different from "Shipment Received"

One or more shopment transfers

(a gap corresponding to long distance shipping.)
You don't get to see the package getting a cup of coffee or smoking weed at a truck stop. You don't see if the package went by truck or flew first class in the cargo hold of a plane.)

Trans-shopment to a regional distribution facility.
This will give you a clue as to how the package was shipped long distance, but the useful information is that the timing of arrival at the distribution facility will suggest when the package will be delivered by the local route mail carrier.

Arrival at the local route mail carrier's facility.
(This is often different from the local PO.)


There are also large gaps for customs. The USPS doesn't really have mail scanners at the Canadian border, etc.

Common errors and "warnings"

Since delivery exceptions are entered by the carrier in a manner that meets USPS rules, these delivery exceptions often generate errors or warnings.

Typical "ignore this" warnings are:

(package label created, but package not further tracked)
If this is less than a few business days, this is just an artifact of the shipping label being automatically generated, but the shipper not having completed fulfillment. Some shippers wait several days, but will generally list delivery times accordingly.

Office closed; no access (shows up as a warning)
According to USPS rules, the mail carrier must try to deliver the mail unless the recipient is registered with the USPS as closed. Theoretically, the mail carrrier will try again and then it is up to the recipient to retireve the package. That's the written rule, but in reality, the carrier knows the office is closed at that time and doesn't even check. (I once saw one of these when there was a shitload of people in the front lobby of my office at the time.)

These items are left on the USPS delivery truck and will be delivered when the mail carrier knows the office is normally open (typically regular business hours).

(item is re-routed, sometimes to a nearby city)
Something is either wrong with the address label or the USPS logistics is backed up at the local distribution facility. A regional facility, often in a different city will sort it out. If a munged label can be read by a human, a corrected bar code will be added to the mail label and the item will be forwarded for delivery.

No Access to Delivery Location (shows up as a warning)
The mail carrier wanted to go home for dinner. Whatever you ordered from eBay can wait until tomorrow.

"Package delivered" but not visible
Same as "No Access to Delivery Location" - it's still on the truck. Expect the package the next delivery day (you know ... because it's still on the truck - no need to confer with an occult reader).

(I can't think of other "exceptions" that are not really actual errors, but I'm sure there are some.)

The following are probably actual errors:

Package refused by recipient
If the carrier doesn't check for an address error, it will be returned to sender. At this point, ask the sender to compare the address label to that provided by the broker (e.g., eBay, Etsy or a direct seller) or to determine if the address number or other parts of the label failed to print correctly..
Accepted, with no further progress
Typically the tracking entries are:
    "Pre-Shipment Info Sent to USPS"
    "Shipment Received, Package Acceptance Pending"

The shipper probably never delivered the package, meaning the shipment was probably not received. This is may or may not be a case of ghost arbitrage selling, but it is apparent that the seller obtained a shipping label. Most ghost arbitrage involve 3rd party distributors, in which case, the seller would not cause a shipping label to be generated.

A recent experience was an item that may have been shipped in a 7 cm2 box. My best guess is it got lost in the receiving post office. One would expect that the stray box would have been in someone's way and be placed back in the shipping crates, but the end result is it just disappeared. It's a matter of speculation as to how the item vanished.

Wait the selling time limit (if using a large online site such as eBay), and then claim a refund.
(I can't think of other actual errors, but I'm sure there are some.)

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originally posted 17-Dec-22   rev 17-Dec-22 Stan Protigal