Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
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by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Sun Mar 16 2014 20:43:55

eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

By: Ina Steiner

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eBay has placed increasing importance on tracking numbers in order to help it learn if sellers ship their orders in a timely fashion. In order to be a Top Rated Seller, for example, eBay sellers must upload tracking within their stated handling time on 90% of all transactions. Tracking also helps sellers in the case of a dispute.

But the phrase "between a rock and hard place" comes to mind when considering the position online sellers find themselves when it comes to eBay's requirements, the rock being eBay, and the hard place being shipping carriers. That frequently means the United States Postal Service, for lower volume shippers in particular. The reality is, USPS tracking problems do occur, and eBay judges sellers for factors outside their control.

USPS experiences glitches in which it recycles tracking numbers - see this August news story - and the problem crops up periodically. Last week, a reader wrote to me about duplicate tracking numbers:

"A couple of months ago, I shipped 2 different packages (on different days) with tracking numbers. It turned out that there was a duplicate tracking number on another package (mailed from a different post office here in Miami) for each of the packages that I mailed. I brought this to the attention of the manager at my PO. When I was at the PO this AM, the clerk told me that it happened again to 2 other people. It seems that there are duplicate tracking numbers "floating" around out there that have the potential for creating quite a mess with those of us that sell on eBay. My packages with the duplicate numbers showed the packages being initially scanned at my PO but then going to 2 totally wrong sorting facilities and being delivered to a totally different addresses than my packages were supposed to go to. My packages did end up being delivered to my buyers but the scans never showed that they were delivered (lucky for me that my buyers were honest!)."

Another problem I'm increasingly hearing about is a delay in the acceptance scan; it's appears to be a chronic problem since last fall. In a letter published last week, a reader wrote:

"A few weeks ago I noticed that my local USPS was "processing" packages 5 to 7 days after the packages were being dropped. The acceptance scan showed up to a week late, customers were not happy and were accusing me of shipping very late. Delivery was taking 12 days on average, after the "acceptance" date. It was either packages were being sent ground shipping or something else."


Glitches and delays happen - just ask Amazon or any online merchant about the week leading up to Christmas 2013. If eBay is going to rely on USPS tracking to judge sellers' performance, it seems reasonable to make allowances when tracking or delivery goes awry, but it's not clear there's any way for sellers to get a pass when things outside their control go wrong.

Is USPS tracking reliable, and what is your experience when something goes wrong? Feel free to share your war stories here.




Comments (30) | Leave Comment | Permalink

Readers Comments

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: YourAuctionHero This user has validated their user name.

Sun Mar 16 23:13:47 2014

Personally I've been having better luck with my PO scanning the packages but I met another eBayer in line and he told me he received too many complaints about not scanning so now he waits in the long line and makes the counter person scan every package while he stands there. A pain but a solution.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: Xander This user has validated their user name.

Sun Mar 16 23:34:47 2014

A few weeks ago, we were contacted by a customer who said the tracking showed ''delivered'' but he was adamant it was not. Four days later, the package was delivered for real this time!

Just yesterday, we had the exact same thing, tracking that showed as delivered but no package in his apartment lock box and nothing at the front desk.

I realize this scenario normally works in the sellers favor because the package shows as delivered which normally satisfies requirements for paypal and credit cards but non the less, it is not fair to the buyer who gets screwed out of his order.

Just last week we sent a Express package to a customer who wanted a fast delivery. We sent it on Monday and the tracking showed the ''scheduled'' delivery date to be Thursday which also happened to be the actual delivery date.

Ive noticed new advertisements at the post office claiming Express as being an overnight service yet ever since I can remember, it takes two days and is rarely delivered in one day but in this case, it took three days and printed on the label read ''Priority Express 2 day'' however the tracking showed a scheduled delivery date of three days.

I went in on Friday to speak to our post master who was completely clueless as to how express worked. She sent me to one of the counter clerks who said it should have been there within two days, not three as she handed me a claims form to file for a refund.

I think the USPS's service is seriously getting worse and it also appears they are getting creative with the tracking details as to discourage people from filing claims.

Worth mentioning is the addition of- one day, two day and three day delivery getting printed on their labels which adds insult to injury when customers receive parcels late and want some form of compensation.

The postal service has done us really well for a very long time but their service has been slipping this past 6 months or so- their tracking data can not be trusted. Now ebay wants to use their tracking details? Certainly not good news for remaining ebay sellers as some will be getting axed from the USPS's failure to supply accurate tracking details.

The USPS may need to change their name to Chaos as once used on the old ''Get Smart'' TV series, they're getting quite chaotic these days.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, being a independent online merchant has been growing more difficult these past 7 years.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: BobNJ This user has validated their user name.

Sun Mar 16 23:53:24 2014

I'm having troubles where packages wind up going around the country before being delivered, sometimes weeks later and most are Priority Mail packages. I even had a Registered package take two weeks from Las Vegas to NJ and there was no tracking scans enroute after it left the sorting facility in LV. Tracking is next to useless from everything I've seen in the past several months.

Oh, and by the way. Notice how the clerk attaches a barcode tracking sticker to your package whether you want tracking or now when taking packages to the post office? Guess what, the tracking number still works even if you don't ask for one.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: KathleenJohnson This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Mon Mar 17 00:14:16 2014

When USPS is good, it is very very good. When it is "bad", it is horrid.

For those times when USPS has "messed up" big time - its not the error that is the problem, it is the inability to get USPS to come up with a "quick fix". The "fix" is totally dependent on the personality of the person you turn to at USPS to help you and whether the information they are giving you is correct.

I agree - what needs to be done at eBay is allow you to enter the tracking number of the investigation/complaint you have filed, in writing, online,  at USPS. As long as I filed online with the Inspector General - there was a complete track record of the process and it seems to motivate the local post offices to find a resolution quickly.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: rachel This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 01:53:09 2014

Another problem is that we would have packages scanned at the posted even though we have pre-printed labels to make sure they were in the system. For Valentine's Day we dropped a package in the inside metered mail box when we missed the   close of the retail window but were still in time for last pick up of priority mail. The item was not scanned and it was insured for 500. The man was livid thinking it had not shipped. It took one month to receive. The supervisor said nothing ever gets misplaced it was not there even though the owner called on Tuesday morning and it was Monday 5 PM pick up to look around. Rather than help or even pretend to care, she became livid saying they never make a mistake? it was a kind request. I heard it.Anyway they now require pre-printed label holder to pay for priority mail scans 1.20 so we aave 30 cents to 60 cents, save them the trouble of reading bad hand writing   , pay for our own labels. To listen to them advertise how easy it is, you would think it was scanned at the printer. They say "the label is your receipt" Yes that we paid for a label but not that we took it to the post office. It happens often enough with "tracking not upated" then having to call the post office and having them update it if they are nice, they check with carrier who has that route and have them update it so our records are correct. Somehow first class mail rarely gets lost but priority with the extra payment for signature and postage & insurance is too much of a hassle for some of them. They actually say "you get a discount so we don't scan them" However there are some really great staff there you have to feel sorry for them. It's the management that is horrible and some of the retail people who do not care or care to think about what this means. It's too bad for their customers and the ones that do care and things are getting worse as seasoned people retire who know how to do "package accepted" on pre-paid packages. They do not do this everywhere but etsy has a blog about about it. It began to roll out last spring. Big mistake to get rid of business customers so those that hold up the line taking 20 minutes to pick out a stamp pay retail and give the district people credit for sales.  

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: cosqueen This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 06:28:03 2014

I have been a participant on this discussion board about this same issue many times. in 10 years of selling online I have never had so many problems with the USPS. I live in the suburbs of Chicago and all my first-class parcels (many) go to the sorting center in Forest Park where sorting can take 5-7 days BEFORE the order even leaves for final destinations.  I have spent countess hours on the phone trying to get an answer for this horrible service and am told it is the result of closure of sorting centers and USPS downsizing.  In the past, mail to CA from IL took an average of 5 days.  now, it can take upwards of 10 or 14 days to reach the west coast, yet usps continues to post ''estimated delivery dates' of far less on their scans.  I spend countless hours answering buyers questions and am frustrated I cannot offer another service as UPS and FedEx are not an option for my small business.  If this continues, i predict my business will fail through no fault of my own as my standing on Amazon has been poor since this began in December. I would love comments from other sellers in my location (IL) or other states to compare notes to see if this is a regional issue or if every seller is faced with the delay issue.  Some advice would be to write the USPS Postmaster General in Washington, DC. Also, if printing labels for Ebay, use their bulk shipping tool and print a SCAN form to give to your PO at drop off. The form proves acceptance but still does not help explain to buyers why their orders are taking 14 days for receipt.  

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: Dragonfyree This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 06:29:25 2014

I have an International Package that only showed acceptance by my mailman.

Found out label had printed small and couldn't scan, had to manually enter the number, but no one else along the line has done that, so no scan including the one that says it's left the country.

Crossed fingers - India doesn't have delivery confirmation, so hoping for honest buyer.  

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: FeelingFroggy This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 06:46:19 2014

We sell inexpensive widgets. Tracking has always been a problem. Ebay has coddle and burped the buyer so bad that the tracking number is the holy grail.

We changed our shipping time from three days to five days and now ship without tracking.

After a month we have had one claim as not received. The questions as about tracking this and tracking that in ebay messages is deafing. NONE NADA

Sales haven't changed one iota.

We practice refund, block and move on.

Carrot jumping isn't in our business model.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Mon Mar 17 07:40:26 2014

I sure hope that the powers that be at eBay are reading the comments above.  These problems are not caused by sellers, they are caused by the USPS, and yet sellers and buyers alike are given very unrealistic delivery times.  The buyers therefore are punished with bad service (not seller induced) and the seller ends up with bad DSRs or feedback.

Why not add several days to the delivery time.  When a package arrives days before that predicted time customers or absolutely delighted.  It is kind of like going to a restaurant, being told that you have a 45 minute wait, but then being seated in 10 minutes.

And as for going to the post office and waiting to have every package scanned on a daily basis---just ain't gonna happen.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: wallflower This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 07:50:18 2014

As far as express delivery, they have told me that delivery to rural areas takes longer. That makes sense.  In the past I have gotten refunds several times for them missing the scheduled delivery date.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: cosqueen This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 07:59:09 2014

I would like to add another comment.  I have endlessly tried to education my buyers about the delays but they either don't have time to read or refuse to believe what I say is a fact!  International mail arrives before domestic mail now due to the sorting process!

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: unknown This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 08:20:04 2014

I'm confused by what some people are saying; they seem to be referring to at least 2 different things.

I use a SCAN form on all shipments. That is the 'acceptance' scan I'm familiar with and that shows up by end of day with the correct time of day that the item(s) were accepted. I have no problem with the acceptance scan whatsoever. It's always spot on and that's the 'first scan' ebay refers to.

Once in a blue moon when the SCAN doesn't print or I've forgotten it, I ask them to manually scan stuff which they don't like to do and I get told that if their supervisor sees that, they'll get in trouble.

If a seller is just 'dropping off packages' without a SCAN form, that's exactly what they're doing. Dropping off packages. Until the acceptance scan, they're not shipping anything - they're putting things on an empty counter. That's not shipping anything and it's the seller's responsibility to ship the item they own and it's their responsibility until the item arrives at the shipping address.

What I've seen problems with is any scan AFTER the acceptance. I regularly ship a large FRB to the same address on the east coast. It always shows as having been accepted - and then does not show up until it gets to NY. I've told the post office about it, provided printouts of the full 'tracking' on a package where it showed being accepted and then when it got delivered as the only 2 scans on it. The FRB isn't the only one not scanned after the initial acceptance but it's been at least once a week for the last couple months so I'm 'sure' of it.

That started when they closed the regional sorting center in my town and started sending everything up to some sorting center in LA or Bell, CA, or somewhere - wherever that is, they don't scan anything. Since that's supposed to be 'automatic' and 'mechanical' on their conveyor belts, I can't figure out how things don't get scanned.  

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: Moonwishes This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Mon Mar 17 08:37:24 2014

I'm not sure why so many are having difficulty with packages not showing up and taking forever, etc. Perhaps it is the joy of a small town PO where people still feel a duty to do a good job, but my mail goes where it is supposed to and ends up where it is supposed to in the right amount of time. I use Endicia labels. I also get a lot of packages from Amazon as I am one of their Vine reviewers. Almost everything they send me whether free stuff or purchased shows up in about three days here with no problems.

I do have trouble with FedEx and UPS and their deliveries. The usual driver knows where and how to deliver packages, but the other ones that only make occasional deliveries think nothing of dumping packages in snow banks or under the rain spout, whatever would be guaranteed to mess it up the most! My last package that was supposedly coming via FedEx from Walmart stated the tracking number wasn't a number in their system and the box mysteriously disappeared.  

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: FREDDY This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 08:40:34 2014

They have definitely slowed down since the cutbacks.
Shipped a package priority, Buyer 40 miles away. Took 5 days for delivery.
Local PO is good. They will scan all packages I bring in. Courteous etc. no problems with staff.
Have to think it is more of a management problem.
As far as ebay goes, Amazon is just as bad. I no longer have a problem with ebay as I do not buy or sell on that site. This TRS seller dropped them a while back. Sales dived, hidden listings, so why bother.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: dans parts This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 08:51:23 2014

@cosqueen

RE the Scan Form to be printed when doing labels through eBay:  I finally got eBay to admit that the Pitney-Bowes handled labeling system has a glitch where the Scan Form does NOT always get printed, even when you ask for it.  I have had numerous occasions in the last several months where I have not had the Scan Form generated when I have that option check-marked to show up in the stream of preparing labels for printing.  While I normally don't have a problem when I have a larger bunch of labels printing at once (say, 30 to 50 labels in a batch), when it comes to 2-3-4 labels?  It's a crap-shoot, and probably 60-70% of the time I get no Scan Form.

Unfortunately, even though I did get the eBay rep to admit there is a problem, they shoved the responsibility back to Pitney-Bowes, and told me it was a reported item, and they couldn't do anything about it, since Pitney-Bowes was responsible.  So, who the H... can contact Pitney-Bowes about this?  Typical of eBay.

I'm just so everlastingly grateful that I live in the boonies with a very, VERY small PO, with a clerk that is very helpful and accommodating who will scan everything, one by one, if I ask.  If that PO should ever close, I'll go way out of my way to find another small PO to take my packages to, rather than the larger unit I know I'd get put under for my delivery.  Glad I'm not required to SEND out of same location from where I'm DELIVERED.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: ovigh This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 08:56:02 2014

No doubt, some glitches and errors with USPS tracking occur, but that's more the exception rather than the norm.

I'm not sure how many (out of 500,000+ pieces of mail processed daily) offer tracking, but this much I know: the tracking data shows 95% average scan rate. Keep in mind that some scans are ''system-generated'' and did not actually involve an individual item scan. A good example is the ''Out for Delivery'' scan. Other scans are automatically generated at mail processing facilities during sorting. USPS tracking is getting better as real-time scanning has been implemented. The next generation of scanners is currently currently being deployed. But, as I said, some glitches and errors still happen.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: charcorvet This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 09:04:02 2014

1. Priority Express is just what that poster posted - 2 day Priority mail. OVERNIGHT? is something more and only available in Metropolitan areas realistically - the PO will accept your payments but not guarantee delivery so why bother? Use UPS or Fedex for this and charge accordingly.

2. Dropping items on a counter is baloney. I have printed scan sheets since Click nShip started and I get ALL my packages scanned in at either post office locally with NO additional payments. The $1.20 they are charging that poster is for the "Proof of Mailing" which does nothing for you with ebay or paypal so why pay for it. Bring a scansheet and make them scan that. It's a service the PO offers and provides and has NO charge. If they try to charge you, call the 1-800 USPS phone number and report them

3. I ship from home. I print my labels and get the ebay or paypal discount, and have a scheduled (free) pickup when the carrier drops off my mail. I've had some issues lately with them not scanning and not picking up and it's because Subs are doing the route and I was specifically told the new folks get trained by the current employees and not all of them are familiar with the "system". I will be invoicing my local post master for My time for training his employees how to use their scanners and what to use them on.

Since I make sure to get the inital acceptance scan, I don't worry about the rest but I do get on the PO's case when stuff is screwy like the re-used DC#s and when an incoming first class parcel say in Newark NJ for 30 days. It showed accepted, showed transfer to the sort center and showed it sitting there for 30 days. So every day I made a call or a visit to my postmaster and made a PITN of myself til it arrived. The scan still says (1 yr later) that it's at the Newark Sort Center.

Go Figure

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: val2525 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 09:06:26 2014

My problem is both routes I schedule pickups from (home and work) have relief drivers who constantly scan packages on pickup as 'delivered' and not 'accepted'.  Once it's scanned as 'delivered', future scans along the route do NOT show online.  I've had to refund buyers because I could not prove delivery, and on the most recent episode, the buyer opened a case.  It's so bad I no longer use the package pickup and instead drop my packages off at two POs in town (the only two I trust to not lose the packages, another post entirely).

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: NYC212 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 09:15:58 2014

In response to cosqueen about IL shipping.  As a seller in NYC this Christmas I had many packages go missing and delayed when going to IL.  They seem to be complete mess and the issue continues today.  Often when a package goes wrong to IL it travels to CA first or to IL first then to CA then back to IL after I file a report with the national desk of the PO.

One must demand to get a report number as this is the only way it gets on a list of missing packages that USPS can then at least attempt to fix.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking   eBay Sellers at the Mercy of USPS Tracking

by: cosqueen This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 10:12:22 2014

dans parts:  Yes, I have the same issue with the SCAN form -- it does print 90% of the time but it is frustrating the remaining 10% of the time.  Yes, I have called Ebay as well and got the same line you did.  Someone else noted IL is a mess and I would have to agree.  I am interested in knowing if any other IL sellers have experienced this as well or anyone from other than IL.  Things were just fine until December when the sorting center was changed to Forest Park.  This is very worrisome.  Amazon tallies all of the late shipments and it is reflected as a ''poor'' red status on my account.  Although they know about this, I am still at risk for this continues for too long.  

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