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Strategic insights
(W)UPS - Package Tracking Usability

Written by on February 19, 2006

We have all been in a situation where we have bought something so far away that we need help getting it. This is where the great people of UPS, FedEx or DHL come in and take care of all the transporting. They even offer you a way to track your shipment as it travels - like this:

Or this:

But, that - the tracking service - is not very usable.

This is not what we want. We don't care that they have to scan it every time it changes handler, truck or just being moved a few feet to the left. We want to know that our package is on the move and that it is coming in our general direction. We want to know if something goes wrong and what is being done about it.

We want simplicity, easiness, and visible clues. We want a tracking system focused on our needs.

A usable package tracking solution

Instead the complex hard to read text above - consider this:

It is a simple box, providing you with all the information you want. You can see that it is on the move, when it will arrive, what date - and, most importantly, where it is "in flight from Chicago to Paris".

A simple box that continually updates as your package travels around the world.

If something bad should happen, the same box will change color and message to explain the situation. Like if Chicago O'Hara Airport where to be covered with snow:

...or when something really bad happens:

This will provide us with a usable package tracking solution. It is simpler than what we got now - and yet it provides more information.

Showing the route

A nice addition is the ability to see the actual route your package is going to take. By clicking on the tracking box it could expand and show a more advanced view.

There are a number of important things to notice:

Package tracking should be from where you bought the product and too your home. This is why the first item illustrates the sender handling your order - in this case "Amazon.com". This is very important because you did not buy the product from FedEx, you got it from Amazon.com. Package tracking must illustrate the complete route.

The numbers illustrate the main locations and actions the package must go trough. Any internal transport is left out - like moving the package from the truck to the sorting facility to the Airplane in Chicago (it has no value to us).

The arrow indicates the current location. Green indicates "no problem", Yellow "slight problems", red "a Disaster happened", dark-gray indicates "future destinations", and light-gray "cancelled destinations".

Showing problems on route

Like with the main tracking box, you should also be able to see problems on route. When Chicago is hit by snow you see this:

Yellow indicates a slight problem, but does not alter the overall route

When the package is damaged...

Notice: the subsequent destinations has been cancelled

...or if the plane crashes in mid-flight with your package onboard.

Notice: the current location is "on route by air (accident)", the destination (4) reports package lost and any subsequent destinations has been cancelled

An additional option would be to add an information box, if a big problem arises.

Signature visibility

Another important addition would be to display the signature from when the package was delivered. I cannot count the number of times a package has not arrived only to find that somebody else have signed for it (and forgot to bring it too me).

Displaying the signature would solve most of these problems (and it should be easy to do, since most parcel services use digital devices these days).

This would turn package tracking into a usable experience. It is focusing on our needs.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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