Most of us know that the pleasure of shopping isn’t the actual owning. It’s the anticipation of owning. Case in point: Recently, I made an ordinary online purchase — lots of research, a Web-page receipt, and an e-mail confirmation. But then I noticed there was no package-tracking number in the e-mail, no 18-digit number that looks like someone’s idea of the perfect password. The package came on time — a day early, in fact. But I was sorry I didn’t get to watch it on its travels.
Package tracking is a perfect marriage of high technology and consumer psychology. There are probably still some shoppers for whom the pleasure of mail order is forgetting they’ve ordered anything until it arrives like an early Christmas. The rest of us click on the link that says, “View Package Progress.”
It doesn’t make the package come sooner. It doesn’t prevent it from being lost or stolen or damaged. It certainly doesn’t make what you ordered worth buying. But it’s gratifying, especially when the package isn’t shipped ground or overnight but somewhere in between, a short story of just the right length.
Some people use software to track packages — to automate anticipation. For certain orders, Apple Computer even lets you believe you’re following the tail end of the manufacturing process. Eventually, someone will figure out how to track what you plan to order before you know you’re going to order it. Until then, I’m hoping for a package-tracking Web cam that lets you actually see your box waiting on a loading dock in Rancho Cucamonga or resting quietly in the hold of a cargo plane high over Kansas.