I’m still waiting for the Valentine’s Day card my mom mailed in 2018. Although she dropped it off at a Houston post office, it never made it to my local mail processing facility in Colorado. How can I be so sure? Each morning, I receive a USPS Informed Delivery email containing an image of every letter-size piece of mail addressed to me that is due to be delivered that day. And (sigh) no screenshot of that card ever appeared.
Informed Delivery is one of three free services — the others being FedEx Delivery Manager and UPS My Choice — I use for tracking inbound mail and packages. But I don’t do this just to keep tabs on online orders. I’m more concerned about unexpected deliveries, such as donations to a silent auction I’m chairing, because, let’s face it, how can you know you didn’t receive something if you didn’t know it was coming?
It’s all about choice, control and convenience. Customers “have lives and activities, and don’t want to stick around all day waiting for something important,” says Scott Harkins, senior vice president of customer channel marketing at FedEx. They also want “to be an active participant in the process,” he says.
That’s why these services not only alert you to what’s coming but allow you to take action if needed. “With Informed Delivery, you get an advance look early in the day. So, if something isn’t there, such as a check, you can follow up without having to wait until your mail is delivered,” says Gary Reblin, vice president of product innovation at USPS.
Registering for these services is easy. Typically, you sign up with your name, street address, email and phone number. Then you’ll be required to authenticate your identity.
“We take security very seriously,” says David Carder, UPS’s director of global retail and e-commerce strategy, who notes that the growth of e-commerce has created both delivery and security challenges. “UPS My Choice is designed with multiple layers of security to authenticate the user and ensure customer information and packages are safe and protected.”
USPS and UPS also use multiple methods to validate your information before activating the account. For instance, if you sign up using a mobile number, the system may check to ensure the phone is registered in your name before sending a confirmation text. You may be asked knowledge-based questions or mailed a letter with a verification code. In some cases, you may even have to go to a local post office and show photo ID.
Here’s a look at the three major options:
Launched: April 2017.
Available at: InformedDelivery.USPS.com or via app (iOS and Android).
Subscribers: 16 million (as of April 1, adding about 200,000 people per week).
How it works: Once mail reaches a local processing facility, every letter-size piece is scanned and photographed by automated equipment that sorts mail by address into bins in the sequence walked or driven on the route by a mail carrier. In the same manner, the system sorts the images into an email to a specific subscriber.
What you get: A daily email containing a preview with images of mail due to be delivered that day, as well as a list of packages arriving that day and a section listing items “coming soon.” Larger mail pieces, such as catalogues or magazines, are not shown in an image, but the daily email will include a message saying, “A mail piece for which we do not currently have an image is included in today’s mail.” Should an image appear for mail that is not received, you can report the missing piece. You can leave delivery instructions on a per package basis.
Launched: April 2013.
Available at: FedEx.com/delivery or on app (iOS and Android).
Subscribers: In the millions (exact figures not disclosed) in 60 countries.
How it works: You are notified of all packages matching your name and address. You can set delivery locations, such as your front porch or back door, and place a vacation hold for up to 14 days. You can also schedule a specific delivery time or day or reroute to another address for a fee starting at $5.25. You can redirect packages at no charge to one of 12,000-plus FedEx locations, especially helpful when an adult-only signature is required, which is for important papers, wine or expensive electronics.
What you get: Up to seven notification options, including day before, day of delivery, delivery “exception” (an unexpected delay), ready to be picked up and when delivery is made.
Good to know: About 80 percent of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a FedEx retail network outlet, including 9,000-plus Walgreens and 1,900 FedEx offices, as well as grocery stores and authorized shipping centers.
Launched: October 2011.
Available at: UPS.com/mychoice/welcome.html and via app (iOS and Android)
Subscribers: 57 million members in 112 countries.
How it works: You are notified of all packages matching your name and address. When you fill out your preferences, you can designate a “leave at” location such as deck or back door or a UPS Access Point. Scheduling a specific two-hour delivery window, postponing delivery or rerouting to another address, including in a different state, costs $5 to $8. You can also authorize a “shipment release” (sign in advance online) or have the package left with a neighbor or sent to a UPS center for will call.
What you get: Text or email notifications when a package is shipped, the day before delivery, the morning of delivery with estimated delivery time, and when delivered.
Good to know: There are more than 9,000 Access Points. These are independent businesses such as pharmacies, delis, florists and other retailers that have agreed to accept packages for UPS, at no charge to customers. UPS also has more than 300 unmanned lockers in urban areas. Lockers can only be opened with a unique bar code.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect name for the service David Carder of UPS was discussing. This version has been corrected.
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