How to Track a Package - Answers to common shipment tracking questions

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Malomo Staff


How to track a package blog

When it comes to tracking information, we've seen at all. Here at Malomo we track thousands of packages on the daily. In this post we'll keep a running list of common questions we hear about package tracking and the answers to help you track your package.

What does it mean when a package is "In Transit" or "On its Way"?

In Transit means your package is traveling to you and the carrier anticipates it will arrive safely. The status "In Transit" does not take into account whether your package is expected to be early, on time or late. So if your estimated delivery date has come and gone and your package is described as "In Transit" that means the carrier is still working on getting it to you but they haven't been able to re-estimate when.

How many days will the status “In Transit” stay on tracking?

Your tracking information will read “in transit” from the time your package leaves its destination location – usually a warehouse or mail facility – to the time it goes out for delivery – usually when your package is put on a delivery truck to be delivered by the driver. How long your package is in transit depends on how far your package has to travel, as well as which shipping product you purchased. For example expedited shipping products like FedEx Priority Overnight should be in transit for just a few hours while discount shipping like USPS Retail Ground can be in transit up to 8 days. If you live in a remote location, expect your package to be in transit even longer.

What does "in transit arriving late" mean?

This means that your package is traveling to you but it’s moving slower than the carrier expected. Packages start their lives in warehouses/fulfillment centers where sellers and goods manufacturers pack them up according to each order. The warehouse/fulfillment center asks the carrier to come pick up batches of packages and the carrier takes possession of those packages when they arrive with a truck and load them on. At that time, the carrier estimates how long they think it will take your package to reach you. However, carriers are susceptible to the same every day annoyances as the rest of us, including heavy traffic and weather-related road and airline closures. If your package is on its way to you but is moving slower than expected, the carrier may re-evaluate when it thinks it can get the package to you. If that date is later than the one they came up with earlier, you’ll receive the message “in transit arriving late.”

What does it mean when your package has been tracking "in transit" for more than a week?

It depends on which shipping service you purchased. For example, USPS Retail Ground shipping is expected to take 2 to 8 days, so seeing an in transit status for more than a week is normal, especially if you live in a remote location or your package is in transit during busy holiday shipping seasons. The retailer you purchased from can give you a more accurate estimate of how many days your order will be in transit.

What does “your package is moving within the USPS network and is on track to be delivered to its final destination. It is currently in transit to the next facility" mean?

This message just means that your package is still in USPS’s possession and they are still working on getting it closer to its final destination. You should think of this message as an “everything’s going according to plan” message intended to let you know all is well.

What does it mean when my tracking page says "Ready to go"?

Ready to Go means that your package was prepared by your seller but hasn't been picked up by the carrier yet - it's ready to leave the warehouse!

Why does my order status says "Available for Pickup"?

Your order will be marked Available for Pickup when the carrier has elected to hold your package at a local facility rather than deliver it to your address. This often happens when the package requires a signature but no one was home to sign for it. You will typically receive a sticky note on your door or mailbox with information about your package that is Available for Pickup, including which facility you need to visit to pickup your package. Usually, USPS will have your package at the nearest post office while Fedex, UPS and other carriers will have the package at one of their nearby stores.

What does "Out for Delivery" mean?

Out for Delivery means that your package has been placed onto a local delivery truck to be taken to its final destination by the driver. When a package is out for delivery, it is usually delivered within the next 12 hours. However, if the delivery driver can’t leave the package at your house (for example, the package requires a signature and you weren’t home to give one) or runs out of time due to traffic or high volume, your package might not make it and will be out for delivery again the next time the delivery vehicle starts its daily route – usually the next day.

What does it mean if a package is shown as "Out for Delivery" for many days?

A package becomes out for delivery when a carrier places it on a local delivery truck that’s about to start its daily route (or sometimes before it is loaded onto the truck. Either way an out for delivery status typically indicates the carrier intends to deliver your package that day. However, delivery drivers can only legally work so many hours in a week and are subject to traffic delays and freak accidents just like the rest of us. If a driver reaches the end of his or her work day and your package is still on the delivery vehicle, your driver, vehicle and unfortunately your package will all return to where they started to try again tomorrow. If your package is out for delivery many days, it’s possible you have the misfortune of having this scenario play out a few days in a row. However if it’s been more than three days, your package might be lost. You should contact the carrier for more information and help locating your package.

Can you track a package beyond the “on vehicle for delivery” status?

No. Carriers do not publicly share information about the routes their delivery vehicles take, for both safety and logistical reasons. While carriers often track route information in order to make estimated “delivered by” times available and to optimize routes, the last thing they want to do is broadcast the location of a delivery vehicle with potentially thousands of dollars of brand new goods on them, including yours.

If tracking shows a package was delivered but you didn’t get it, what do you do?

Package delivery data is usually quite reliable – if a package is marked delivered it was most likely delivered somewhere. If you don’t see it at your address, it’s possible that the delivery is just not where you expected it. Take the following steps to try to determine the package’s location:

  • Check the tracking information for delivery location. Delivery confirmations will often include information about where the package was left, such as “left in/at mailbox” or “left on back porch.” Look around the front and back of your house in case the carrier flubbed this step and provided the wrong location or didn't include a location.
  • Check the shipping address. Was the package actually delivered to your address? A typo in the shipping address could mean your package was delivered, just not to you.
  • Check with neighbors. Delivery drivers are human, after all, and can make a mistake when reading an address. Check with your neighbors to see if they accidentally received your package.
  • Look for a notice of attempted delivery. If a delivery driver tried to deliver your package but couldn’t, they could have left a notice stuck to your front door or in your mailbox letting you know.

In some rare cases a package could be marked as delivered before your delivery driver has had the opportunity to leave it at your address. If you still haven’t received your package within a couple days, contact the carrier for more information. If they are unable to help, contact the seller who sent the package.

Can both the sender and receiver track the same package?

Yes. Tracking numbers are public information – anyone with the tracking number is free to receive information about the status of the shipment. For this reason carriers typically do NOT include sensitive information like street addresses, recipient names or contents of the package on their tracking pages.

Can I share my tracking number with someone?

Of course! Tracking numbers are not considered private information, and as such anyone with the number is free to look up the whereabouts of the package. To prevent theft and package tampering and to maintain the package recipient’s privacy, carriers do not show sensitive information like the exact address of where a package currently is or the street address and name of the recipient in their tracking information.

Can you track a package without a tracking number?

A tracking number is the easiest way to get information about a package. However, if you do not have a tracking number there may be ways to learn the status of your package. The easiest way is simply to contact the seller you purchased the shipped items from and ask for one. All the seller should need from you is an order number and they’ll be able to look up your order and provide a tracking number. Because tracking information does NOT include private information like your exact shipping address, name, email, or what items are in the package, sellers can share tracking numbers with you more easily than other information.

If you know which carrier your package was shipped with, you may also be able to create an account on that carrier’s website and see information about any packages they have in their system on their way to you. For example you can sign up for the USPS Informed Delivery program to see information about mail and packages addressed to and sent to you through USPS.

Why can’t tracking tell me where my package is?

If your tracking information does not explain the status of your package, for example whether it is pre-shipment, pre-transit, on its way, in-transit, out for delivery or delivered, don’t panic just yet. Most tracking numbers begin their lives when your order is packed into a box. Once your order is packaged up, a shipping label will be printed and applied to it. Your tracking number usually doesn’t even exist until the shipping label software is told to make a new label and print it. So the first thing that happens with your tracking number is it’s printed into a label and attached to a box that is sitting in a warehouse with a lot of other boxes and hasn’t actually been picked up by the carrier yet. If you check your tracking information at this time, you could receive messages like “label created,” “unknown location” or even just see a tracking page that says to check back later. This is because the carrier hasn’t even picked up the package yet and started scanning it. There’s nothing to report yet, other than the tracking number exists.

It can take up to 24 hours for a carrier to pick packages up from a warehouse and tell you where your package is, although many warehouses are faster than that. If it’s been a day and you still can’t find any information about your package, it’s possible you received an incorrect tracking number or another mistake has occurred. Contacting the seller you purchased from can help you get any issues resolved.

What does it mean when a tracking package says ‘in possession of USPS’?

This just means that USPS is confirming your package exists and they have it. This message is normally seen at the beginning of your package’s journey, when USPS has picked it up from the warehouse where it was packed and is determining where it needs to go. You might also see this message if your package is being shipped by a different carrier that contracts with USPS. For example, when using DHL shipping DHL often hands your package over to USPS when it gets to your city and asks USPS to finish the delivery. Since USPS is already capable of delivering mail to every household in the US, asking USPS to finish getting your package to you helps DHL avoid investing in a whole fleet of extra vehicles to run routes in your location.

Is USPS tracking, Fedex Tracking, DHL tracking in real time?

Yes and no. When you check USPS tracking, Fedex tracking, DHL tracking or any other carrier’s tracking service you will see the most recent scan information about your package. However, carriers scan your package when it moves through various points in their networks, usually when it goes into or out of a long-haul truck, aircraft, warehouse or sorting facility. If your package is loaded onto a long-haul truck in California on its way to New York, it will be scanned when it goes on the truck in California but won’t be scanned again until it is unloaded in New York at least a couple days later. If you check your tracking information while your package is crossing the country, it will tell the most recent information – your package just left California. But it won’t be able to tell you where it currently is at this very moment (on I-74 in Ohio, perhaps?). Here's some more information on parcel tracking.

Why can’t I track my package in real time?

It’s possible that carriers know real time information about packages in their networks at all times – their trucks and aircraft often have GPS and they know which packages are on the trucks and aircraft – but they aren’t going to share it with anyone outside their organization. The last thing they want to do is broadcast to the world the location of a truck with thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods on it.

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