USPS’s New “Premium” Tracking

Thursday, April 16th, 2020

Preface

I appreciate the post office. I use it often, and I think that as a public good it ought to be well-funded by our tax dollars, and certainly not privatized. I also think mail-in voting seems like a fairly obvious Good Thing. Still, I am not infrequently amused and amazed by the goofiness of United States Postal Service.

Premium Tracking

Though I’m well aware of the general futility of tracking a package via USPS, I still occasionally find myself attempting it. On a recent face-palm inducing visit to their tracking website, I noticed a new section called “Premium Tracking”. Given the terrible nature of standard USPS tracking, I was intrigued. Had they added more detailed information as packages moved through the system? Did they now show a map? Would they, at the very least, update the status a few times while the package was en route? The woeful nature of the standard tracking meant the possibilities for improvements were endless.

Upon opening the “Premium Tracking” section, I saw the following:

An offer for so-called “Premium Tracking”, for money.

I needed to read through this twice, and then I needed to sit down and take some deep breaths. I felt like I was losing my mind, and perhaps I was. Still, I’m pretty sure this makes not one goddamned bit of sense. Let’s take a tour of all the ways this is mind-bogglingly stupid.

“Extended History”

To start, it’s important to understand just what the post office is actually selling here. According to their FAQ, it “extends the length of time you can access the tracking history of a domestic package”.

Despite the “Premium Tracking” name, this service doesn’t actually improve any part of the lousy tracking USPS offers. Instead, they’ll provide access to scant tracking details they have for a longer than usual period of time, provided you’ve paid them money ahead of time.

Who Needs This?

According to the bulletin on the USPS News Link site1, which was updated in early February to promote this new feature:

USPS Premium Tracking is aimed at customers who need evidence of delivery to resolve disputes and claims; evidence of mailing or delivery and delivery attempts for legal and court proceedings; and an official, authentic source of data for legal and financial sources.

The thing is, you can sign up to receive this information for free when the delivery is in progress, and even afterward. If you have any capability of holding on to your own emails, this service seems entirely needless.

10 Years

Let us assume that for some reason, you are in fact incapable of archiving emails. Maybe you’re desperately low on hard drive space, or perhaps you’re afflicted with a nervous system condition that causes you to just go to town on your keyboard’s delete key. Even then, who in the world needs tracking for 10 years? To be clear, this is not a 10 year subscription for all deliveries from USPS. It’s offering the ability to view tracking data for one single package, for an entire decade. Do they think I’m going to get wistful in 2030, and want to reminisce about the Velcro-brand cable ties I got shipped to me during the COVID-19 pandemic? Improving my cord management has been great and all, but consider me skeptical.

Hey, That’s 50% More Months!

At the low end of the options, we can buy 6 months of “extended history”. In the wall of text above their buy buttons, USPS warns that my history will “only” be available until August 6th. That’s 4 months from when the package shipped, or approximate 3 months and 20 days longer than I expect to have any need for this tracking information. But if I did somehow did need this data later, would 6 months really be enough? For whom is 4 months not enough, but 6 months is?

That Doesn’t Follow

In that same wall of text above the buying options, the site states “You can only purchase extended history once, so all orders are final and are not eligible for a refund”. You can only purchase once, so it’s not eligible for a refund? That doesn’t follow. “And”. The word you’re looking for is “and”, poor, sad, government-employed copywriter who had to attempt to explain this twaddle to the world.

What Even Are These Options?

I don’t understand who needs more than 4 months of tracking history for a single package, and I don’t understand who needs 10 years’ worth either. But even more than that, I simply cannot fathom the logic of the varying levels in between. Assuming anyone at all is purchasing this, I would dearly love to see the sales breakdown. There can’t possibly be a need for six different options.

Pricing

Even the cost of this ludicrous service doesn’t make sense. Here’s a quick table:

An offer for so-called “Premium Tracking”, for money.

As you can see, the price drops dramatically once you opt for 3 years or more, right up until it jumps back up if you go from 7 years to 10.

Closing

I have to step back from the abyss, before this madness swallows me whole. Thank you for allowing me to share the insanity with you. Doing so has has lessened my own pain. I think the healthiest thing for us all to do now is to pretend this doesn’t exist, and hope it goes away.


Footnotes:

  1. Yes, apparently USPS has a news site. Much like One Foot Tsunami, it’s updated every weekday.↩︎


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