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What is cargo tracking?

Published on: November 7, 2023

Updated: January 16, 2024

Cargo tracking refers to the system or method used to monitor and trace the movement, location, and status of goods as they move from the point of origin to their destination. This process usually involves the use of barcodes, RFID tags, GPS devices, and electronic data interchange to provide real-time or periodic updates about the shipment’s progress.

In the context of ecommerce, cargo tracking is the digital tool or service that allows both merchants and customers to monitor the location, status, and estimated delivery time of any ordered products as they move from the supplier or warehouse to the buyer’s doorstep.

When implemented correctly, cargo tracking enhances the post-purchase experience by giving shoppers transparency and reducing uncertainties about delivery times.

How does cargo tracking work?

Cargo tracking stepDescription
Order placement and confirmationThe order is placed and prepared for dispatch
Label generationThe merchant or shipper creates a shipping label with the tracking number, destination address, and other relevant information.
Initial scanThe carrier scans the parcel into its system
Transition scansThese scans update the cargo's status, such as "sorted," "in transit," or "out for delivery."
Delivery scanThis is the final scan and takes place when the parcel arrives at the customer’s doorstep

The inner working of cargo tracking depends on the shipper (i.e., the merchant), as well as their logistics vendors. That’s because cargo tracking operates through a combination of software systems, scanning devices, and communication networks to provide parcel monitoring updates.

That being said, here’s a general overview of how cargo tracking works.

Order placement and confirmation

Once a customer places an order, the ecommerce platform processes the order and prepares it for dispatch. This is usually when the pack-and-pick process takes place.

Label generation

The ecommerce business (or its fulfillment partner) creates a shipping label with the tracking number, destination address, and other relevant information. This label usually includes a barcode or QR code for easy scanning.

Initial scan

When the package is ready for pickup or drop-off, the shipping company (i.e., USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc.) scans the label. This officially marks the beginning of the tracking process. This initial scan usually indicates that the order is “in transit” or “shipment received.”

Transitional scans

As the package moves through different stages of the shipping process—from sorting facilities to transit hubs—it’s scanned at each point. These scans update the cargo’s status, such as “sorted,” “in transit,” or “out for delivery.”

Delivery scan

Upon reaching the destination, the package is scanned one last time, indicating that it has been “delivered.” Depending on the package, the delivery person can take a photo or capture the receiver’s signature as proof of delivery.

Optional: GPS and real-time updates

Some courier companies, especially for high-priority or premium services, use vehicles equipped with GPS. This offers more frequent ecommerce tracking updates and can provide an estimated time of arrival to the customer.

In some cases, GPS and real-time updates are implemented for last mile tracking, when the package is out for delivery. Some merchants (like Amazon in specific cases) enable customers to track their package’s location in real-time.

How are customers kept in the loop with all things cargo tracking?

Delivery Notification

Throughout these stages, the ecommerce platform or delivery notification software can send automatic notifications (usually via email or SMS) to the customer, informing them of their order’s status. Some businesses also provide a link where customers can view real-time tracking information on a map.

How do you check your cargo tracking? [Tips for merchants on implementing cargo tracking]

If you’re a merchant looking to guide your customers on cargo tracking, here’s a breakdown on how the process works.

Provide the tracking number

Once the order is shipped, ensure that each customer receives a unique tracking number. This is typically sent via email, SMS, or is accessible in the customer’s account section on your website.

Direct customers to the tracking page—or better yet, a branded order tracking hub

It’s also beneficial to guide your customers directly to the shipment tracking page—or more optimally, to a branded order tracking hub. Unlike a generic or third-party tracking site, a branded tracking page allows you to maintain a consistent experience throughout the post-purchase journey.

Consider mobile app notifications

If you have a mobile app, consider integrating push notifications to automatically update customers about their shipment’s status. They can tap the notification to see more detailed tracking information.

Keep your customer support team in the loop

Customer asking customer service chat bot for tracking info

Ideally, providing customers with cargo tracking tools would reduce WISMO inquiries. That being said, you should still ensure that your customer support team has access to tracking information. This way, if customers face difficulties or don’t understand how to track their orders, they can reach out for assistance.

Provide a helpline or chat support option where customers can share their order number and get tracking details.

Add a FAQ or help section

Also, consider adding a section on your website dedicated to explaining how customers can track their orders, addressing common queries, and offering troubleshooting tips. Do your best to keep any info on your website as updated and accurate as possible to prevent misinformation or consumer complaints.

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