What the subject says. I've done some fairly heavy duty online retail stuff in the past, then didn't for a long time... I started up a "hobby business" awhile back... And now it's going to be growing quite a bit. Ooops.
As with a lot of people who sell small/light things, it makes a ton of economic sense to send things as USPS First Class Mail Letters or Large Envelopes/Flats. The universal problem is they don't have tracking. Except THEY DO. USPS created their Informed Visibility program years back and tracks them all by their Intelligent Mail Barcodes.
Basically every online shipping provider out there uses the IMB on their mailings, but nobody offers a solution to actually allow you to get access to the tracking data! What an obvious oversight and fail by literally every company in the world. Haha.
I've been researching this to death because I know it's going to become more of an issue as I scale. Things I know:
eBay and possibly Etsy integrated a way for items sold on their platforms to use this data and show buyers tracking. Which is cool, except for everything you sell other places can't use this.
A company called Letter Track Pro exists which allows you access to this data AND has a customer accessible tracking page! Problem solved, right? Unfortunately their system is really manual in nature, and doesn't really have integrations anywhere. Which is unfortunate, because if they could somehow piggy back onto ShipStation or somewhere else it would be problem solved. They charge a lot on a per piece basis, but still massive savings vs sending as packages, so I'd probably do it. I actually need to talk to these guys, as perhaps there is way to make it workable.
Pitney Bowes seems to support IMB and has some sort of tracking stuff in their back end from what I can make out from their website... I have messaged them and am waiting to hear back. Their whole system seems a bit clunky and backwards, they do things very old school, don't list relevant info on their website but want you to contact them so a sales guy can call you, etc... So I don't have high hopes. I get the impression they allow YOU as a mailer to see some tracking info, but have no solution you could just send to a buyer. So only of minimal value as a retailer telling a customer an order is somewhere when the customer has no way to see it themselves will probably come off as more shady to the customer than anything.
Then there seem to be super weird, old school mass mailer companies that use this technology in various ways, but none are really useful for online retailers.
Somebody PLEASE tell me I have missed something in my research and there is a company out there that would allow me to send letters and flats and actually track the things, while preferably allowing my customer to do the same from a link. PLEASE!
I like ShipStation and have used them for years. It gets the job done. But I really don't understand why nobody, including them, has the sense to do the extremely simple coding work to just allow people to access the IMB data that the USPS will gladly give them for free. It's bonkers that only eBay and maybe Etsy are doing this. The difference between a $.60 mailing cost (or even flats at $1.xx) and $3-4-5+ bucks just to get tracking is silly, and for many product types that are small there's no need. People are buying more and more stuff online, and some small items are only viable to sell if you don't have high shipping costs.
If anybody at ShipStation reads this, please tell the boss to develop this feature! From the forum posts all over the internet of people talking about this subject, I am 110% confident that if ANY decent shipping service provider offered this service they would swoop up a ton of customers instantly just for this service, not to mention make many existing customers ecstatic.
Anyway, end of rant for now. I hope to get some responses from people who perhaps have info I don't. If I hear anything useful back from Pitney Bowes or Letter Track I will post here for the good of the universe! I swear that if nobody ever gets this figured out I might have to do it myself for my business, but also offer it as a product to others. It'd probably make more money than my current businesses do. LOL