The Truth About Tracking Flats. It’s Probably Not as Bad as You Think.
May 24, 2022   Dave Lewis

Flat-size mail has been the Achilles heel of mail tracking since the days of the PLANET code, late in the last century.  The problem was really very simple:  Letter-size mail is all sorted on automated sorting equipment – flats…not so much.  Because flats come in so many dimensions and formats, they are not always well suited to automation, and the machines are huge and expensive – and not very efficient.  So, a lot of flat mail is sorted outside of automation.

Still, with the advent of Informed Visibility (IV), flats tracking has improved dramatically.  It’s really a matter of ascertaining your needs and understanding how it works.

Mail density and entry point  are the biggest drivers in flat scan rates.  Carrier-route mail that is inducted at the DDU – the destination delivery unit –generally will not sort on a machine.  However, there are still opportunities for us to track the mail – if it is barcoded and sent Full-Service.  Material handlers at the DDU should be scanning the pallet placard when the mail arrives at the unit, and again as the mail is distributed to the carriers.  USPS may also scan the top piece in a bundle and report this data.  Informed Visibility uses the data mailers provide in their e-Doc to identify the pieces nested to the pallet they were on and we can provide delivery information based on these container scans.  USPS is not as consistent as we’d like at providing the container scans, but the percentages are not bad.  For mailings of lower density, the pieces have a much better chance of going on flat-sorting equipment and providing piece scans to delivery. 

So, what should you track, and what should you expect?  We’re sticking with tracking all flats with a barcode.  Tracking of flats is different, but here’s what you will get:

  • An entry scan about 95% of the time.  This is the initial pallet scan that confirms that the Postal Service has taken possession of the mail.  When you have issues down the line, this is where you start investigating.  Without an entry scan (or the confirmed absence of one), you’re pretty much done.   This also serves as documentation that the mail was inducted and the date on which that happened.  Helpful for getting paid… and assuaging the concerns of nervous customers.
  • Scanned to delivery about 70% of the time.  Yeah, we don’t love it either, but it’s way better than 0%.  The scan rate varies with different presort levels, pieces sorted to the carrier-route level come in last at about 60% tracked to delivery.  Origin entered flats tend to get about 85% tracked to delivery.  The table below shows the results for April, which were typical of scan performance we’ve been seeing for more than a year:


Carrier-route stands out when it comes to the percent tracked to delivery, but matches performance for getting at least some kind of scan. 

Understanding all of this, how should mailers deal with this data and the issues it presents?

  • First, set expectations.  You, and your customers, should not be expecting tracking results comparable to letters.  The results that you obtain for flats are valuable and excellent at determining delivery in general.  All parties do need to understand that just because a piece did not get scanned, that does not mean it wasn’t delivered. 
  • Tracking is about more than when pieces get delivered.  In the era of seamless acceptance and commingling, documentation that mail was entered is often as important as when it was delivered.  Indeed, Informed Visibility is really Seamless Acceptance taken full circle by providing documentation of mailing.
  • These are averages.  At times, some areas will do better or worse than other areas.  The only way to know how flats tracking is in your market is to track them.

Tracking flats does have significant differences than tracking letters, but it can be just as valuable a service as long as expectations are set correctly, and the data is interpreted right.   Need some help?  Contact us!