USA - Japan - Australia: The Global Tracking Experiment Of One Online Shopper

Occasionally I buy stuff online in the US. My motives are simple -- either Aussie stock is much more expensive or the items I'm interested in are simply unavailable in Australia.

This time I decided to refresh my wardrobe without going broke and to purchase a few items on US Ebay and 6pm.com: Levi's jeans, Ralph Lauren underpants and a pair of Nikes. The price I paid was much cheaper compared to Australian prices (even with the current USD/AUD exchange rate).

Lead Image: For all these items I paid $51.29 USD total (with 10% off 6pm coupon applied)

The US mail forwarding company I used to ship my stuff was Shopfans (au.shopfans.com). These guys entered the Australian market not so long ago and are currently offering pretty competitive shipping rates to Australia. Shopfans has shipped over 2 million parcels worldwide and also offer good packaging and fast shipping.

I also wanted to buy some kind of tracking device for work, that’s why after some research I decided to order a tracking device from the US and use it right away to track my parcel. Being able to see what route your parcel take is a very useful and a piece-of-mind option since we all heard about cases when international packages were wrongly routed thousands and thousands of miles across the globe.

I picked a mid-range motion activated GPS device -- Trackinapack plus (US$299) that comes with a prepaid sim card. I chose this particular device based on the following: price, no annual contract and/or monthly fee, variety of tracking options when tracking an object on land, sea or in the air, and a long-life battery.

When choosing the right device to track an international parcel, battery life is the most essential feature to consider. The manufacturer promised that if the device is set to report its location twice a day, the user wouldn’t need to recharge it for up to 12 months. However, my case was different - I wanted to leave the device in the tracking mode 24/7, therefore, the battery was supposed to last for not more than 15 days (in real life, this manufacturer’s statement was an exaggeration but will get back to this later).

The Tracking Experiment

Right after I’d placed my order, I contacted the seller and kindly asked him to charge the device and ship it with a next day delivery service to the address in Delaware I received at the registration on Shopfans website. This state where the forwarder has its warehouse has no sales taxes (one of the reasons why I picked these guys). The very next day after my last order had arrived at the warehouse and appeared in my Shopfans account, I requested to pack the device in a parcel together with the rest of my purchases. Everything went smoothly and without major delays.

The shipment method I picked was Priority Mail Express: I wanted to check how US Postal Service works in conjunction with Australia Post. This delivery method is not the cheapest offered by Shopfans (they have some budget methods such as Airmail and Shopfans Australia Mail), but it fit my experiment needs the best.

To make my experiment even more challenging, when filling out the destination address in my Shopfans account, I decided to skip my apartment (unit) number hoping that my tracking device would help me to locate and receive the parcel. If the experiment failed, the parcel would be returned back to the sender.

So, after the payment went through, my parcel was ready to cross the ocean. The battery was on 96%.

There are several options how the device can be tracked: via the Internet, over the phone and via text messages and/or emails. Also, all movements get automatically saved in its history. My preferred tracking choice was web tracking. For some reason, the web interface and interface when opening the same page on the phone looked different and some options like putting a parcel into a sleeping/airplane mode were not available.

Before my parcel began its journey I set a couple of geofences, so every time it reached a selected area, I received an email (text message option was also available). With the very first request to locate my parcel the countdown had started. I started to use 50 text messages and 1000 positions received at the checkout.

The parcel departed from 700 Carpenters Xing, Folcroft, PA where Shopfans warehouse is located on March 8th. The very first day it stayed in the city of Folcroft, at Shopfans mail-center facility, not moving constantly.

My parcel’s first movements. Folcroft, PA 19032

It started to move on March 9th. The first reported location was I-76 road, and then New Jersey Tpke, reported speed - 50.7 mph. The speed increased with the next location - N Boundary Rd- Jamaica- NY- 11430.

The route to JFK

The parcel stayed in Jamaica, NY for 1.5 days or even longer. It seems like that’s how long export customs clearance and airplane screening took. Kinda slow, don’t you think?

The parcel’s movements at JFK

Not receiving any updates for a while and only seeing Jamaica on my screen, I started to think that the device stopped working and rebooted it remotely a couple of times, when suddenly another location had popped up - Tomisato, JAPAN. I checked the exact coordinates I received and realised that my parcel was in Tokyo, at Narita airport with total mileage of 6,827.3 miles or 10987.5 km. By the way, according to the tracking number, the parcel was still in NY.

My parcel arrived at Land of the Rising Sun, airport NRT, March, 2016. It stayed in NRT for a couple of hours or even less

My battery level was lower than I expected, 27-30%. Luckily, the very same day I received another location update - the parcel arrived at Australia. Total mileage at that point was 11,690.8 miles. I checked the coordinates, and saw SYD airport on the map. The parcel was moving with a low speed, probably carried by an airport staff.

Safety landing in Sydney

Pretty soon the device started to report one location after another. It looked as if the parcel had left SYD and was moving with the speed of a vehicle. The driver made a couple of fast stops.

Sydney trip

The longer stop was at Kingsgrove where I believe some parcels sorting took place. The battery was very low (at 3%) and since it was Saturday and for a couple of hours the parcel was not moving, I change the mode to a sleeping one.

Kingsgrove Australia Post location. Penultimate stop.

I turned the device on on Sunday. To my surprise, the location had changed to Arncliffe LPO. Not sure when exactly the parcel had been moved there.

On Monday without receiving any notifications from the postal service, I took my ID and went to the postal office which coordinates my device reported before dying to make the final step. I spent some time interacting with the post office employees to explain the absence of a unit number on the address label and finally got the parcel.

Overall I am pretty satisfied with the outcome of my experiment. All my items arrived safe and sound (the device was bubble wrapped and for some reasons there was a fragile sticker on the box:) and even faster than expected. The only problem was the battery, cause in case if the entire route would take only one day longer, I wouldn’t be able to track the parcel. However partially it was my fault. I was afraid of missing the important check points and was not aware of the flight departure time, I decided not to put my device into a sleeping mode for most part of the remaining route. Maybe, using that mode and checking the locations only once or twice per day would be more reasonable…

Here is the tracking number of the parcel I received: https://tools.usps.com/go/TrackConfirmAction?qtc_tLabels1=EE986667408US

The entire route of the parcel: USA - JAPAN - Australia

This is how all the features look from the device’s account