How do packages get lost in the mail?

Every Friday, we answer a common question about fulfillment, shipping, or business. This week’s question comes from one of the board gamers who entered our giveaway contest for a copy of the board game Wingspan. Today we will answer the following question: “how do packages get lost in the mail?”

At Fulfillrite, we’re constantly researching what’s going on in the shipping and fulfillment industry. As you can imagine, we’ve stumbled across an enormous amount of online conversations around lost packages. A package being lost in the mail is not a common experience, but many people would argue otherwise.

Still, many people turn to the internet for answers. With Christmas a mere five days away, you may very well have items being delivered to you as you read this. With this in mind, let’s talk about what’s actually happening when your package is “lost in the mail.”

1. The package was stolen.

It’s not very compatible with the Christmas spirit to say this, but here we go. If the post office or UPS/DHL/FedEx says your package has been delivered, but it’s not there on your doorstep, it’s probably been stolen. As many as 26 million packages were stolen in 2017. This is, by far, the most common cause of packages being “lost in the mail.”

Fortunately, we wrote a separate post on this subject, and we came to the conclusion that there are things you can do to prevent package theft.

2. The package was delivered to the wrong address.

Not every failure of the postal system is the fault of thieves, though. Every once in a while, a package will be delivered to the wrong address. Sometimes, an address is invalid and there is no return address. We call those sorts of packages “dead mail” or “orphaned packages.”

If you’re the shipper in this scenario, the best way you can prevent situations like this is through address verification. This virtually ensures that mailing addresses are valid.

3. The package was destroyed in the mail.

The vast majority of lost mail can be chalked up to theft or bad addresses. However, with so much mail going around the globe, freak accidents are inevitable. Here’s a quote we found on Quora by Steve Kochersperger, a historical researcher at USPS. We think he says it best.

In a tiny fraction of cases, items in the mail may be accidentally damaged or destroyed while in transit or during processing. In my 25 years as a postmaster, I can recall only two occasions when I had to notify a customer that their item was destroyed. One was a fiery truck crash that incinerated most of the mail; the other was a plane crash. Even in those cases, mail with a legible address was delivered along with a note of explanation.

With billions of pieces of mail flowing through the system at any given time, mishaps are bound to occur. That is why we sell postal insurance.

Final Thoughts on Packages Lost in the Mail

Thankfully, the mail system is pretty reliable. If you ordered something for Christmas, you will probably receive it! Theft and bad addresses account for the vast majority of lost mailpieces, and thankfully, these are at least partly preventable problems.

And for everything else? There’s postal insurance.

Happy Holidays!

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