Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
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by Ina Steiner, Editor of
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.

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Readers Comments

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

by: Toledo Maude This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 10:32:14 2014

Reading today’s responses from sellers it appears that good Postal Office service and delivery reliability is a matter of one’s local post office.  

In the 1980's living in Chicago, my daily visits to the local post office (very busy at all times), one could expect a lengthy wait in line.  The clerks were friendly but not interested in offering speedy service to customers.   However, I cannot recall any lost packages.

After moving to south Florida, and living in a medium sized community, I was pleased to see that the local post office combined  friendly clerks with reduced wait times.  And I cannot recall any lost packages.

Now, I live in the Midwest once again in a small community but sufficiently large to have a good sized post office.  Some days, the wait in line can be longer due to one clerk being tied up with passport processing.  Once in front of a clerk, my packages are scanned promptly sending me on my way with no delay.  The only problem delivery that I can remember was several years ago, when I tried to save a buck and shipped a package to the West Coast using parcel post.  The package arrived weeks late rumpled but with the item undamaged.  I never used parcel post again.

Life is not perfect though.  Recently on a Sunday, a post office driver drove up to my door to delivery an Express package from Asia, never knocked left a delivery notice and was gone before I could open the door.  Never knocked, never waiting a minute before leaving.  

I could schedule a free pick up for packages, but going to the post office is a welcome break from looking at the four walls of my Internet cave of an office.  From reading today’s post office problems, I may be ducking some problem “bullets” by dropping packages off at the post office.  

In surprise move by our local post office in this period of post office “downsizing” starting at the Christmas rush, a clerk was stationed in the waiting area.  Her job is help the waiting customers make sure their packages and letters are ready to be processed.  She always offers to take my pre-labeled packages.   Well, I always enjoy a brief chit-chat with the clerks and decline her offer.  In the future, I will always wait for the packages to be scanned in my presence by the clerk.  

Reading the horror stories today, I realize that I may be doing myself and buyers a favor by waiting in line until a clerk scans my packages starting the delivery process.  

All in all, today by printing and paying on line for both post office and FedEx labels and stopping at the local post office and FedEx offices to have the packages scanned and saving maybe a day in delivery time, I am happy with both.  However, as far as the post office is concerned, where I live maybe a significant part of my post office satisfaction.

My sympathies to all the hard working sellers whose local post office workers are either under-trained or just don’t give a poop.

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: thehosst

Mon Mar 17 11:24:20 2014

Hello Ina, if you use Endicia, then it may be an issue. They are a great company and I will keep using them but I have learn that their servers have been down a few times or "affected" by some glitch back in January.

Tracking codes were not being updated at all for weeks and it does affect packages because packages were not being delivered, in our case hundreds. They told me that the tracking codes were being synchronized to the correct dates. But what it means to sellers is this, tracking codes can be manipulated and affected, I was not aware of the duplicated codes, there you have it, another issue.

If tracking codes can be manipulated ( corrected, synch, etc ). Then, there is another issue happening, post offices have a Delivery Scorecard, kind of like the eBay DSRs, if the packages are taking long, the post office is affected, I guess budgets or promotions are affected. Whatever it is, a low score is not going to the a post office an Olympic medal.

Sellers are affected in so many ways, buyers accuse them of issuing fake tracking codes, in my case, I have two post masters customers who were ignorant enough to open cases against me because they claim that the tracking codes were fake, because in their 2 letters a day post offices this never happens they say. The packages were delivered without any kind of acceptance tracking, they only tracking showing was delivered. Of course we have the cases closed and no one single word from these smart post masters.

Technical issues can happen but eBay and Amazon have to cut us some slack and increase the percentage of how they rate a seller, 2% on eBay DSRs is just not enough if half of the packages are affected by the USPS issues. I know, I know, we can use Fedex or UPS but why? Who is going to pay more for shipping than for the product? The USPS has to fix their issues, period.  

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: thehosst

Mon Mar 17 11:28:58 2014

I forgot to mention something so that you can see that post master can manipulate tracking numbers. Hundreds of packages show an expected delivery date, 2 or 3 days after package was dropped, sometimes they show delivered within 2 days but the packages get delivered 1, 2 or even 5 days later. This is a tricky way to increase the Delivery Scorecard for post offices, if you can enter the acceptance, a day or two later or if you can enter the delivery update to show 2 or 3 days after accepted, well. Just think about it. All I can say is that this never happened before and now we see it more and more.  

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

by: SparklyEyes7 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 17 22:38:57 2014

I must be really lucky!  I live in KC and my postal carrier picks up and scans daily. They usually drop my mail first, then come back later with the truck and pick up the boxes. I hear the beep, beep, beep when he picks up.

Only problem I have is when there's a sub.  Last week, I had 15 boxes out Monday morning and when I went outside at 5pm, noticed they were still there.  So Tuesday I made sure I was home so could I ask her and yes, she was there Monday but thought they were UPS deliveries.  Really?  There are 15 boxes with labels with the same return address and 15 different to addresses and with Priority Mail stickers on some and you thought they were deliveries from UPS?

I do get excellent feedback about my super quick shipping so they must be sorted quickly too.

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

by: ebay refugee camp This user has validated their user name.

Tue Mar 18 07:49:46 2014

Ebay is making policies in their offices and they have no idea what happens in the real world.
I recently received some supplies that I purchased on ebay and I noticed the item was scanned but scanned the next day I do not know if the sellers did not ship it until the next day or it was not scanned in, it also never scanned again along the way.
I can tell you that after 14 years of shipping with the USPS my items are not scanned the day the post office receives them every time and what about the holidays, weather delays and other problems. Ebay is out of control and determined to make sellers lives a living hell with policies that are unobtainable.
It is just too much, what is wrong at ebay?
I can understand that you have to make policies and rules but common sense and honesty should be at the forefront.
Sellers should be embraced not treated like we are the enemy, someone needs to get get some real world executives in at ebay the present regime is out of touch.
Do they no anything about retail?
Have they ever ever shipped 20-30 packages a day every day?
Have they ever experienced a shoplifter?
Ebay needs to practice what they preach they expect sellers who pay the fees to be almost perfect yet ebay itself has the worst customer service in the world


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

by: PowerSeller2007 This user has validated their user name.

Tue Mar 18 08:42:05 2014

It is why Amazon would use Drones instead of USPS.

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

by: songe-d-automne This user has validated their user name.

Tue Mar 18 09:44:00 2014

I have always, and now especially will continue to wait while they scan my boxes in. Ugh

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

by: mjr55 This user has validated their user name.

Tue Mar 18 21:01:32 2014

cosqueen....having the same issues as you with Forest Park. It has BEEN HORRENDOUS the last 4-5 months. If this is the way this is going to be, I am going to take my packages over the Wisconsin border so they don't go through Forest Park anymore.

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

by: ng This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 1 14:24:31 2014

I agree with cosqueen. I have the same problem with the SCAN. i am from IL as well and the package I mailed yesterday does not show up on any of the usps tracking systems. As an ebay seller, i am completely at the mercy of the postal system and is very worrisome.

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

by: Runs.With.Scissors This user has validated their user name.

Wed May 7 16:11:25 2014

@ cosqueen, mjr55,& ng:

 I complained to USPS management people at (by email) about the Forest Park, IL Sort Facility, over a month ago, but they've never responded.  It appears that nobody cares.... Not even a ''thanks, we're looking into it'' reply.

  I ship almost 8,000 First Class packages per year that go through the Forest Park, IL Sort Facility. I never had that many problems with them prior to November 2013; however, from December, 2013 up to the present, the many delays and errors continue, and are way too frequent.  I sometimes spend hours per day, responding to angry customers.

  At first I thought it was all just weather delays from the severe winter we just had.  But, no.  The problems are still consistent, week in and week out, regardless of weather. . . It is now May, 2014, and this is the 6th consecutive month of continual delays and excessive mail mis-sorts at the Forest Park, IL USPS Sort Facility.

Last-in/First Out?
  Lately, the worst day to mail First Class packages (for me) is Wednesday.  It's common for Forest Park to process Thursday's mail, then Friday's, then Saturday's, then the PREVIOUS Wednesday mailings get processed AFTER that.  That's why Wednesday's mail sits there in Forest Park unprocessed ..for up to 6 days .. and it doesn't get touched until the following week!  Trackings repeatedly show that several more recent days were all processed ahead of it!  

 I've tried driving around and dropping off packages at different western suburban post offices (and even Chicago, IL 60666 at O'Hare Field) attempting to avoid the Forest Park IL Sort Facility, but to no avail ... my First Class parcels still go through that awful place.

 It's no wonder that USPS is losing money.  I'm seriously thinking of moving all of my shipping business over to FedEx.  Would cost a little more, but probably worth the resultant stress reduction.

 I know way more about this problem than I've revealed here*, but my rant is already getting a little too long, so I'll end it. (*my neighbor works for the main USPS Carol Stream facility; I've spoken with Eagle Express truck drivers that haul mail between sort facilities; discussed this with USPS employees; etc.)
PS: ebay's message to buyers on my listings don't help make for happy buyers. They
tout ''Fast N Free get it by (3-4 days from now) ... which is ridiculous, when it has to go from Illinois to California, and spends the first 6 days sitting in the Forest Park, IL Sort Facility ..... How about 8-12 days, ebay?

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