This package shipped from Mississippi to Michigan — via Puerto Rico. Here's why some shipments go on circuitous journeys.
Packages end up in the wrong place sometimes but usually make it to their destination.
Extra transit days add frustration for consumers and costs and emissions for logistics companies.
UPS and USPS have plans to reduce these "misloads."
The package started out like normal. A small bubble wrap envelope of cosmetics shipped by the US Postal Service from Mississippi headed for Michigan — 750 miles away. But something happened when it got to Memphis, Tennessee, and suddenly, it was in Puerto Rico. Eight days later it arrived at its destination.
It's a strange path, but not completely unheard of. When USPS analyzed the tracking for this package a spokesperson told Insider it was simply a mistake.
"Each employee makes a concerted effort to process and deliver each piece of mail and unfortunately, on very rare occasions, instances of mail delivery issues may occur. During mail processing a package may be missent to another office," the spokesperson said via email.
But when these errors are multiplied across the tens of millions of packages flowing around the US every day, the problem looks a little bigger.
Across the US package delivery industry, there are more than 59 million packages shipped every day, according to the latest figures from Pitney Bowes, an e-commerce shipping firm.
The USPS spokesperson declined to give a misload rate for the postal service. But UPS, for one, currently misloads one-quarter of one percent of packages, or 1 out of 400, according to CEO Carol Tomé, speaking on an earnings call earlier this week. That means it's possible that more than 150,000 packages are misloaded every day across the country.
Many of those will eventually make it to their destination, but after a longer than necessary route that wastes emissions and time, not to mention the extra cost for delivery companies.
"All of that's got to be eliminated," Tomé said in July.
The end of human error and tropical package vacations
Though nearly every package delivery company has introduced some form of automation to its operations, there's still a fair amount of human error in these systems — and technology makes mistakes too.
Tomé is looking to avoid these mistakes with a substantial technological upgrade using RFID technology.
UPS plans to tag most packages flowing through its network of trucks and warehouses with the same kind of stick-on digital tags retail stores use to track inventory and prevent theft. This way the packages can be passively scanned by digital readers, and would not need to be scanned by hand to register where they are. UPS has said the program could eliminate 20 million hand scans every day.
So far, the company has expanded the program to 100 of its facilities.
The expectation is the misloads will go from one in 400 packages to one in 800 in these buildings. Last month, Tomé said that, in 50 of the 100 warehouses already converted, misloads are more like 1 in 1,000.
"We're really excited about rolling it out to the 940 remaining buildings in the United States," said Tomé. The rollout could also virtually eliminate the need for an age-old practice at UPS called "salting" where managers plant fake packages to make sure staff identifies misloads.
USPS is also working on improving misloads with a new barcode, which resembles a square QR code, that is easier for existing scanners to pick up.
"If an employee or piece of equipment is not able to scan the regular barcode, due to the label being distorted, the Intelligent Mail matrix barcode can be scanned instead," said the spokesperson. "This increases the readability, cuts down on rehandling packages, and improves visibility and tracking, resulting in a better customer experience."
Have questions (or complaints) about package shipping? Share them with senior reporter Emma Cosgrove firstname.lastname@example.org.
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