The Ultimate Guide to Package Tracking for Modern Consumers

As consumers, we’re buying a lot of products online these days—more than ever, actually. And one we hit that “buy” button and cruise through checkout, we obsessively track our orders as they make their way to us. After all, we just handed over a bunch of money in hopes that our purchases get to us on time and in tact.

It’s a tale as old as time… or maybe just as old as the last few decades. However, over the past 40 years, the ecommerce landscape has changed drastically. Ecommerce platforms have evolved. Advertising has evolved. Consumers have evolved. Despite all of this evolution, though, package tracking has woefully stayed the same as it ever was, which means we shoppers still get to experience that same bout of anxiety between purchase and delivery.

In the 1970s, FedEx developed a system in which a package would generate a numeric string that could be used to find a package’s last recorded location on its journey. For years, customers could obtain their own tracking numbers by calling a customer service line, until 1994 and the launch of enabled finding tracking numbers on the web.

There have been minor updates to tracking technology — smart package tracking has enabled hospitals to track critical shipments in conjunction with a geofence so when packages arrive, staff can take action immediately.

Delivery fleets have grown and hubs have expanded, but the actual clunky experience of package tracking, more or less, remains the same for modern consumers: rummage through an email inbox to find a long string of letters and numbers, enter that code into the carrier’s website, get a vague update about a package’s whereabouts.

Top Problems with Today’s Package Tracking

Global ecommerce sales were up 16.5% in 2020, amassing a huge $3.914 trillion in one year (yes, trillion, with a T). Consumers want to keep tabs on all their purchases, and simply offering a delivery date isn’t enough to satiate what shoppers expect from merchants anymore. The coronavirus pandemic-induced influx of packages across all carriers means there are more opportunities for errors, whether that’s damage to the products, unforeseen delays, boxes that just get lost in the shuffle, or even theft.

Current inconvenient tracking methods get even more challenging when consumers are buying and expecting multiple purchases per month, week, or even day. Receiving a bunch of different package tracking numbers scattered across separate email threads makes tracking each package less straightforward and confusing. Package tracking has become a veritable dinosaur, and that creates a lot of problems within the customer experience.

Current Tracking Methods Are Outdated

Any system that’s remained the same since the 1970s is probably a bit outdated. While pretty much everyone utilizes package tracking when they make an online purchase, there’s been little development in the technology since its foundation.

Nearly 70% of consumers say that tracking orders is one of their top three considerations when buying a product online. Today’s environment is increasingly defined by ecommerce and digitizing our way of life. This current combination shines a light on what parts of ecommerce are pretty defunct, and it opens the door for brands to differentiate themselves in the post-purchase stage of the customer journey by offering a superior package tracking system.

Tracking Packages from Overseas Is a Crapshoot

Additionally, international purchases have been on the rise. Research has found that 30% of consumers have purchased goods from overseas between two and five times in the past 12 months. “Having a superior branded tracking experience is critical in all situations, but even more so when you are conduct- ing cross-border commerce,” said Duncan Licence, vice president of global product at Metapack for RetailDive.

Package Thieves Are Capitalizing on Limited Updates

Along with letting customers know when their purchase hits milestones such as “shipping label created” and “item left warehouse,” package tracking is also used as a tool to estimate when a package is arriving so that a customer can retrieve it before a thief finds it.

Porch pirates, AKA people who steal packages off others’ doorstep, have been on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, roughly one in five Americans were victims of porch pirates in the first 90 days of the pandemic. With everyone shopping online, thieves know that they can expect goodies on many doorsteps around their neighborhood and take advantage of the easy targets.

Without updated technology and real-time tracking notifications, the burden again lies with customers to either constantly refresh carrier tracking numbers or watch for a delivery truck to pull up the entire day of their expected delivery. This in itself is another layer of unnecessary anxiety, stress, and complexity added to current tracking.

Between the anxieties of theft, loss, and just wanting the very exciting thing you bought to be in your hands, psychology plays a large role in waiting for your package. Superior package tracking can put muchIn short, today’s package tracking tech makes customers do most of the work. From opening emails, finding lengthy tracking numbers, being sent to several third-party sites for vague updates, and managing all the packages they have en route, the experience has incredible room for improvement. Enhancing the package tracking experience is an opportunity ripe for the picking by any online merchant—they just have to know what to do.

Why Package Tracking Needs to Meet Modern Consumer Expectations

When it comes to enabling customers to track everything they order, merchants don’t have to settle for the outdated tech that’s been plaguing customer experiences and brand perceptions since the ‘90s. Creating a frictionless, even enjoyable, tracking experience can make a dramatic difference in the bond between your shop and its customers. There are only benefits and zero downfalls when it comes to updating.

Save on Support Costs and Resources

“Where is my order?” is a question that clogs supports chats and inboxes more than any other. Questions asking about purchase ETAs and whereabouts often account for nearly half of all questions asked, which means merchants are spending a lot of time and money answering questions that could be answered with better tracking and proactive updates.

Every single interaction, even if the answers are found swiftly and smoothly, costs money. Small businesses can expect to spend $5-6 per WISMO inquiry, which could add up to hundreds per week and tens of thousands per year.

That’s money that could be funneled into inventory, innovation, research and development, or other customer experience optimizations. But instead, it’s cash spent to answer questions that could be avoided altogether with slight improvements to your package tracking methods.

Take Control of the Post-purchase Experience

The post-purchase experience has been, to put it bluntly, a wasted opportunity for years. It’s almost as if many online sellers don’t care what happens after they get paid by the customer, which is why the last-mile customer experience has always been lacking. In fact, the majority of consumers, nearly 60%, say that retailers are “mediocre at best” when it comes to the delivery experience.

Nobody wants their brand to be known as just “mediocre,” but since the post-purchase experience has been largely ignored by merchants, that sentiment is the norm. Leaving package tracking in the hands of third-party carriers not only shoves your brand to the backburner, it also leaves you without any control of that experience and how your customers feel about it.

However, recent research has shown that over 90% of retailers agree that engaging customers after they make a purchase improves brand perception, customer satisfaction, and loyalty. Add that stat to the fact that more than 80% of companies expect to compete mainly on customer experience this year, and it’s clear that the post-purchase experience is now more important than ever to both customers and merchants.

Exceed Customer Needs and Build Loyalty

A big misconception over the past few decades is that customers won’t blame the brand if the post-purchase journey goes off-track. If the carrier loses the goods, then it’s the carriers problem, right? Or if a thief snags the packages off your porch, that’s on the thief, eh?

Wrong and wrong. It doesn’t matter if a package gets swept away in hurricane winds, ransacked by a family of raccoons, or sucked up by an alien spaceship, the onus for replacing or refunding a purchase lands with the merchant.

Eighty-four percent of consumers say they probably won’t shop with a brand again after a bad last-mile delivery experience, 40% see this part of the journey as the most memorable, and 98.1% (that’s pretty much everyone) says that this experience impacts brand loyalty.

Extend Time of Engagement with Customers

Quality package tracking strategies will keep your customers in the loop and provide that transparency and trust they crave with online brands. However, when done right, package tracking can be an entire re-engagement campaign. If you choose a tracking strategy that empowers you to add your brand flavor to it—whether that’s an icon or custom email or personalized texts—that keeps customers engaged through more touch points than you can imagine.

With carrier tracking updates, it’s the carrier’s brand that gets the spotlight. Since the post-purchase experience has been largely ignored until recently, this is the part of the customer journey where most brands disengage to focus on customer acquisition, causing customers to, well, also disengage.

Instead of letting your brand float out of consumers’ minds and disappear into the ether, seize this opportunity to engage, engage, engage. Build your brand, tout your mission, peddle upsells and cross-sells based on purchase history, recommend hot and trending products below tracking details in emails—the options are endless. Whatever you do though, don’t squander this prime opportunity to continue engaging with customers during a phase they’re already paying attention.

With so much at stake during this part of the customer experience, why are merchants leaving it in the hands of third-party carriers and their outdated tracking methods? There are ways to take control of the tracking experience so that customers feel cared for, are well-informed, and build a closer and more transparent relationship with merchants.

Evolving Tech for Better Package Tracking

While much of today’s tracking is still relying on the methods of yore, there have been evolutions in the technology that make a better post-purchase experience possible. Adopting any (or all) of these tracking iterations makes for happy customers, increased loyalty, enhanced brand differentiation, and decreased customer support costs.

Email Updates

The most traditional channel, email, has been a popular method to enable package tracking for your customers. As one of the earliest means of communication between carriers and customers, email has been a staple in many marketing plans for decades. Despite its age, email has withstood the test of time and continues to garner users. More than 90% of internet users have an email address, and it’s almost always a required field on checkout pages. Despite email’s ubiquity, open rates typically hover around just 20%.

Despite email bearing the highest ROI for nearly 75% of marketers, its popularity when it comes to tracking packages is dwindling. In 2018, 86% of retailers used email notifications to communicate delivery status updates. That number dropped dramatically to just 57% in 2019.

Email is a fast and easy way to automate your own tracking notifications, and they’ll be the default if you count on carriers to do the communicating. If this is the only channel your store relies on to deploy tracking updates, make sure that the information inside is relevant, useful, and easy to find for the best experience possible.

Email Pros

Email Cons

SMS Texts and Push Notifications

The next iteration of package tracking technology takes advantage of the move toward a more mobile world—SMS text messages and push notifications. Push notifications come via an app and show up directly on a customer’s phone with real-time updates about when the package hits major milestones in its journey, such as leaving the warehouse, having the shipping code created, in transit, and delivered. SMS does the same but delivers alerts through text messages.

Consumers are 5.5 times more likely to opt into SMS texts to receive post-purchase updates versus pre-purchase marketing tactics. Plus, when you take into account that 75% of customers like to receive tracking updates via text, and 65% like receiving order updates, it’s clear that it’s a welcome technology.

With open rates teetering near 100%, SMS is a reliable method of delivering up-to-the-minute tracking updates. However, it’s also one of the priciest options. With SMS, everyone needs to get paid—the SMS solution, the mobile service provider, and the carriers. Push notifications may be cheaper in the long run, but upfront, this tactic requires app development.

SMS & Push Pros

SMS & Push Cons

Visual Tracking

Route’s visual tracking feature is one of the first major evolutions of package tracking in the last decade. With the app, shoppers are able to watch all of their packages move from origin to destination on a real map from the ease of their smartphone. Real-time package details provide arrival dates and in-depth knowledge of where a package is, what’s causing any delays, and what brand a package is coming from.

That last part is especially useful if you’re a frequent online shopper who regularly expects a few packages to arrive at any moment. With the tech in to track all incoming packages at once, this frees shoppers from having to tediously sift through their inbox to find one tracking email at a time and jump around to site after site to find the details they want. Visual tracking provides 24/7 transparency into where each package is with one click of a button.

And for sellers, a visual tracking map offers more opportunity for brand engagement. Shoppers will be more exposed to your logo as they watch it travel around the map from points A to B, and your brand will have additional opportunities for messaging directly to consumers. This visibility keeps your brand, not a carrier, top of mind.

Visual Tracking Pros

Visual Tracking Cons

Shareable Tracking

Another update to package tracking in quite some time is shareable package tracking. Now, shoppers can share their package tracking information with others. Finally, folks don’t have to plan on being home for days on end not knowing exactly when packages will arrive. Shoppers can simply click to share their order with a friendly neighbor or family member so they can pick up their package for them if they have plans to go away for a weekend.

Additionally, shoppers don’t only buy things online for themselves. Plenty of online shopping is gifts for others — plenty of shoppers are buying holiday and birthday gifts for friends and family in different cities. It’s also pretty common for people to buy things for their elderly relatives and have it delivered directly to them.

With shareable package tracking, shoppers can provide the recipient with the package shipping information so the shopper can rest easy knowing that the recipient will know when the package is arriving and not have to track it and update them manually. This way, both the buyer and the receiver will know exactly where the package is at any given time.

Shareable Tracking Pros

Shareable Tracking Cons

Summary of Tracking Considerations

FactorQuestions to Ask Yourself
PriceHow much time can you invest in new tracking strategies?
How can you offer this feature to customers without cost?
Do you have the bandwidth to invest in technology beyond automated emails?
Example: SMS messaging, push notifications, etc.
ChannelWhere are your customers primarily shopping, e.g., mobile or desktop?
Which channels currently get the best engagement?
Does this align with where your target customer is shopping?
How many channels can you or your team manage right now?
How can you scale in a way that makes sense?
Brand ControlHow much control do you want over how your brand engages in the post-purchase experience?
How will you maintain a positive brand reputation if you choose carriers to deploy tracking messages?
What do you want customers to feel about your brand and their experience during the post-purchase journey?
ResultsHow will you measure tracking success?
How will you measure customer satisfaction regarding changes to the tracking experience?
How will you learn from results and keep optimizing your customer experience?

Package Tracking Is a Prime Opportunity to Stand out and Scale Big

Online shopping is just a bit more popular today than it was in 1970 when package tracking was invented. Engaging, easy-to-use, and transparent package tracking benefits both the brand and the end user. For the shopper, they have an easier and more immersive solution to their package tracking needs. For the brand, they can improve the overall customer experience and, in turn, boost customer loyalty, drive brand engagement, and encourage repeat purchases.

Avoid detracting from the overall experience with crappy and confusing tracking practices. So many brands forget about this final step in the customer journey because they see the post-purchase stage as a no-value added part of the customer experience. But we know better. Don’t leave your customers in the dust after they’ve hit the buy button. Instead, reward them with a better post-purchase experience that will leave a lasting impression and bring them coming back time and time again.

To learn more about how your brand can improve your post-purchase customer experience, schedule a demo with Route today.

Drive 1000% ROI on your post-purchase experience.

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