It can be very frustrating if your USPS tracking number doesn’t work. In fact, this problem can come in two separate guises.
If you are entering a USPS tracking number and it is showing invalid, clearly something has gone wrong with the tracking number you have.
The other scenario is not seeing any updates when you type in your valid USPS tracking number. You are getting no new notifications about the delivery.
We shall look at both of these today, the reasons they happen, and what you can do about it.
Let’s dive in…
USPS Tracking Number Invalid
If you are getting an error message when you type in your USPS tracking number, it is generally because the number you have entered is invalid.
There are a few reasons this could be happening. The first is simply that you have typed in the wrong number.
You should double-check the number and try to type it in again. For your reference, USPS tracking numbers use the following format.
USPS Tracking Number Format
USPS Tracking Numbers are 22 Numbers Long:
On USPS tracking labels and shipping receipts, the numbers are arranged in groups of four digits, followed by two digits (e.g 9200 9876 1526 9162 9764 00)
It is obviously important that all numbers are entered when attempting to track a shipment.
Furthermore, some international USPS shipments will have letters at the beginning of the tracking number, (“EC” or “CP”). These are case-sensitive so need to be entered appropriately.
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What to do when a tracking number is invalid
Check the Source of the Number
If you have typed in the number you have correctly, the first step is to check the source of the tracking number.
How did you receive it? If copied and pasted from a confirmation email, did you copy and paste correctly? (i.e didn’t miss a number, or added spaces at the beginning or end of the copy).
Did a 3rd party send you the tracking number in a way where an error may have occurred?
An email from an eCommerce website for example, or maybe a friend is shipping a package to you and sent you the wrong tracking number in error.
Locating the original tracking number
Essentially, you will need to locate the original USPS tracking number.
If you sent the package yourself through the post office, you will be able to find the original tracking number on the sales receipt.
It will also be on the peel-off-and-keep section of the USPS tracking label.
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If you used an online service to print your label, you will find any active tracking numbers by logging into your account.
Most services will also have sent you a confirmation email after you have printed the label. The tracking number will be there too.
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It is the original tracking number but still doesn’t work
If you are sure you are using the correct tracking number, it is possible that the package has yet to be scanned at its first location, or has been scanned incorrectly.
While this is unusual, it could be a reason your USPS tracking number is not registering.
While you could call USPS customers straight away, I would recommend giving the package some time to enter the network and for the tracking number to begin working.
However, on a time-sensitive shipment, (you have ordered next-day delivery for example), you do not have that luxury.
There is one more issue to consider before making the call, however.
The Tracking Label was Added Incorrectly
If you added the tracking label yourself, it is important that it is done so that the bar code is easy to scan.
If you inadvertently curled the label so it cannot be read by the scanners, your package may have failed to enter the USPS system.
Scanners do not work very well around the curvature of tubes or when placed over the edges of boxes. Try to avoid obscuring the tracking label as much as you can.
When affixing a USPS tracking label yourself, aim for the flattest, widest location of the package.
You should also avoid placing it over any seams of the packaging as this is a weak spot where the label might split or crinkle.
If the barcode cannot be scanned, your tracking number will not work.
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USPS Customer Services
Should the USPS tracking number continue to register as invalid after going through the above steps, you should make that call.
The USPS customer service number is 1-800-275-8777. Here you will be able to explain your situation and provide the tracking details.
As the number isn’t working, you will need information such as the recipient’s address and the service used for the shipment.
The hope is that USPS will be able to locate the package and provide details of its status and an updated tracking number if available.
There is also USPS technical support at 1-800-344-7779. You may find help with an invalid tracking number here too.
USPS Tracking Number Valid but not Updating
The second issue you may encounter with a USPS tracking number not working is that it is simply not updating.
The number is registered as valid, yet no status information is being provided.
First, let’s look at some of the reasons this could be happening.
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Reasons your USPS Tracking Number is not Updating
1. Package Missed a Scan
When you consider that millions of packages pass through USPS shipment infrastructure each and every week, the fact that an item might not be scanned at each hub is not surprising.
It is amazing that the vast majority do. Each item is supposed to be scanned as it enters a USPS hub.
This is a largely automatic procedure, with bulk scanning and machines doing the work.
However, if your package slips through without being scanned, the tracking number will not be updated with any new information.
You will enter the tracking number into the USPS system and see no updates. An issue that goes on too long, causes concern.
2. Facility Delays
If your USPS tracking number is not showing any updates, it could be that there are none to give.
This might happen if a USPS processing facility is at maximum capacity for example. This will cause a delay at the facility in terms of the ability to scan items.
This is more likely to happen during seasonal volume peaks such as the Christmas holidays, or around Black Friday weekends when USPS is stretched.
As mentioned above, if a mail item is having problems being scanned, there will be no new information sent to the tracking number.
3. Delivered but not Updated
If the package reaches its final destination and is delivered, but this is not registered to the tracking number, it will seem as if the shipment is in limbo.
This happens only on rare occasions, (it would take the driver to forget to scan the item as delivered when they dropped the package off for this to happen), however, it is possible.
A delivered but not updated scenario is most likely if you have already received an “Out for Delivery” update. This means the local USPS driver has it for final delivery.
If this same notification shows up on the tracking details for more than a day without an update, it could be that the item has been delivered but not to you directly.
You should check around the exterior of the house and with the neighbors to see if the package has in fact arrived.
4. Anything Else that Causes Delays in the Delivery
Due to the fact the package is scanned at certain junctures of its journey, any hold-up will cause a lack of tracking number updates.
Everything from adverse weather conditions to driver error or delays, staffing levels, etc will impact the speed at which your package reaches the recipient.
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What to do When your USPS Tracking Number isn’t Updating
All of the above delays will make it seem that your tracking number is failing to update.
The key factor is to have some level of patience.
While in some cases this isn’t possible, (when you have ordered expedited delivery for example), waiting a while longer will normally see your package details updated.
However, when patience runs out, or there really does seem to be a problem, it will be time to reach for the phone to USPS customer services.
I’m a 25 year veteran of USPS. I’m retired now, but as the editor of Mailbox Master, I can’t quite remove myself from the carrier industry just yet. 🙂