With how easily mail and get lost and with the abundance of courier services all racing around at the same time, keeping track of your parcel and when exactly it’s dispatched and ready to be at your door is an extremely handy feature that many of us feel like we won’t need until we’re impatiently waiting for it’s arrival hoping we did.
If you’ve ever thought about how exactly tracking works, a lot of it functions through the tracking number, a set of both letters and numbers that are important not just for the delivery service and courier to know, but especially for the customer.
The tracking number will almost always be sent from the company straight into your email, so it’s always a good idea to use it so that you can ensure your product gets to you when you need it.
Here is everything you need to know about tracking numbers and how they work.
How Does A Tracking Number Work?
The tracking number is applied to a package by the company’s workers just before it’s shipped to be delivered.
It functions as a unique ID number or code which is assigned to a package and is usually printed on the label in the form of a barcode.
This works through a simple GPS system which has been around since the 1980’s and links one set of data to another, allowing for easy tracking of your mail.
As the customer, you will receive the tracking number in an email and can either scan or type in the code on the postal services website to instantly get an idea of where your package is and how long it’s going to take.
How Long Is A Tracking Number?
Tracking numbers can range from 9 to 22 digits long. This is the range most tracking numbers will be between, however they can even reach up to 40 digits with some delivery services.
The reason for tracking numbers being so long is because the more packages that need to be tracked, the more codes will be required and considering some of the biggest delivery services such as USPS and Deutsche Post deliver literally billions of packages each year, it makes the numbers tracking each individual parcel longer each time.
To give some perceptive to how confusing the inner workings of these simple codes can be, as of July 2020 USPS tracking numbers had reached being 20 digits long, which means that there are literally more than a few billion number and letter combinations used as tracking codes that would be impossible to monitor manually.
Format Of Tracking Number
With every tracking number, there should almost always be less letters in the code than numbers.
For some codes, letters can even be left out entirely with just a few numbers to type in or scan.
The most common combination of characters used will be two letters followed by up to 18 numbers and then two letters at the end such as ‘DE’ in reference to the country that is exporting the package.
There are however a few common combinations of numbers and letters used by specific companies and services that are unique to them and let you know exactly who and where your parcel is coming from.
Popular Tracking Number Formats
Here are some of the ways the most popular delivery services will format their tracking number so you can recognise that they are legit when you make a purchase.
The most common USPS tracking format is made up of 20 digits overall given just how popular the service is worldwide.
The code is made up from a combination of 13 digits overal and usually starts with 2 letters being followed by a string of numbers.
When shipped outside of North America, each code will end with the letters ‘US’ to signify where it was shipped from.
DHL tracking numbers are a little shorter usually being between 9 to 10 digits which includes a combination of 3S, JVGL or JJD in the beginning with the rest being made up of numbers.
For the express service, it will be the same number of numbers but will usually either begin with the combination of 000,JJD01,JJDOO,JVGL or a similar combination to signify its premium delivery.
The DHL eCommerce service is a little different as the characters can range from 10 to 39 and will usually start with either GM, LX or RX.
Deutsche Post tracking numbers will always be between 12 to 20 digits and are almost always made up entirely of a combination of numbers rather than being mixed with letters, or if there are any letters there will usually be only one or two.
There are some rare cases where a package from Deutsche Post can have a 9 digit shipment reference number, however it will work exactly the same when typed into the search field on the services website.
Tracking numbers for UPS carriers is a mixture of 18 to 25 letters and numbers together and will always start with ‘1Z’.
With UPS you can actually track up to 25 different parcels at once, and with such a recognisable tracking combination it makes tracking parcels with UPS extremely easy.
Is A Tracking Number Required For Tracking A Package?
While a tracking number is not exactly confidential information, it is still a personal code that you need to memorize or have written down as it’s the only way you can track a package.
There are unfortunately not a lot of courier companies that allow you to locate a shipment by personal name since if companies were allowed to do this, there would also be a high possibility that more of your personal details could become publicly disclosed.
Why Is My Parcel Not Tracking?
If you find that when you type in or scan the tracking number, you are met with a blank screen or an error message, there are a few reasons for why this can happen.
If your order has only just shipped, you will usually need to wait between 1-3 days after you get the shipment notification for tracking updates to start appearing, so it can be a good idea to try the code throughout the day every few hours.
Another common reason for a code not working is if you accidentally type in the order number instead of the tracking number.
The two look quite alike, so it can be easy to mix them up, however you will always be able to find the tracking number on the order page or in the notification email of the products shipment.
If you have copy and pasted the code, also double check that there are no prefixes or postfixes that may have been added on by accident.
Many parcels are able to be tracked as soon as they are shipped, so it is always worth going into the notification email you receive to see exactly where your package is so that you can be home and ready for its arrival, just make sure you always keep your tracking number handy and that it is in the appropriate format for the service you ordered from.