Have you recently checked USPS tracking, and noticed a bright red message that says ‘Processing Exception’ at the top of it?
Sometimes the full message will also read ‘Processing Exception – Other Delay’, ‘Processing Exception – Weather Delay’, or in rare cases, ‘The postal service has identified a problem with the processing of this item.’
But what do these messages actually mean? What causes them, and how will it affect the delivery of your package?
These are all excellent questions. In this article, I’ll be covering this message in detail, along with what you can do to get your package as quickly as possible.
What Is A Processing Exception On USPS?
If USPS is telling you that there’s been a processing exception with your shipment, this means a delay has occurred involving the automatic processing and sorting of your item.
Many people don’t know this, but the overwhelming majority of the shipping process is handled by machines and technology, rather than packages manually moving by hand via actual humans.
Most packages make it through the automatic sorting, routing and dispatch in each center just fine. Because of how complex USPS sorting facilities are however, it’s possible for something to go wrong.
So, if an error or delay occurs during the automatic processing of your package at any one of USPS’ sorting centers, you will receive a ‘Processing Exception’ message on your tracking page.
Possible Causes Of A Processing Exception
Now that we know what a processing exception is, what are the actual causes for it?
While ‘processing exception’ is quite a general message, it usually occurs due to one of the below scenarios.
Depending on the scenario, the length of the delay can differ. So, it may be useful for you to familiarize yourself with all of the different possible reasons the processing exception occurred!
1. An Error Prevented It From Progressing Past Its Current USPS Hub
According to other people who have shared their experiences online, this seems to be one of the most common issues.
Your package does not go straight from your shipper’s address to your door. Instead, it stops at various USPS hubs throughout the country to be sorted and routed accordingly.
However, since it will usually travel through multiple different locations, this means there are multiple opportunities for something to go wrong.
For example, it’s possible that a piece of machinery located at the hub your package is currently at is malfunctioning.
Or, there could be staff strikes or shortages due to extreme weather.
In rare instances, technical glitches can cause the package to end up going around in circles, continuously getting sent back to the hub it was at previously. This was the case for one Reddit user, whose story you can read below.
Regardless, there is some problem that’s preventing it from actually moving onto the next hub in USPS’ network. And until USPS can identify and fix the problem, the processing exception message is likely to remain.
2. The Package Appears Damaged, And Was Pulled Aside
Although the majority of USPS processing is completely automated, there are still human workers keeping an eye over things.
If a package appears visibly damaged, it may be pulled aside to be inspected by USPS staff.
When this happens, it cannot continue the automatic sorting and routing process that other packages are currently going through.
And because the process was interrupted, a processing error message will appear on your tracking page.
Thankfully, this is rare – so you shouldn’t automatically assume that your item is damaged just because you see a processing exception message on your tracking page!
3. The Label Was Damaged Or Unreadable
As mentioned earlier, USPS uses advanced technology to sort and route packages automatically. One of the tools they use are cameras and sensors, that can read the label of your package automatically.
Of course, if the label becomes damaged or crinkled, issues can occur. Additionally, if the text isn’t legible (which is more common with handwritten addresses), the machinery may not be able to accurately read the label, and sort the package accordingly.
When this happens, a picture of the address is sent off to a special team of employees to decipher and correct it. This ensures the package still ultimately ends up where it needs to go.
Popular YouTuber Tom Scott did a very interesting video on how USPS handles illegible labels, which is certainly worth watching if you want to learn more about it!
Note that they are usually able to fix illegible addresses very quickly, without the packages needing to be manually pulled aside.
So, this is rare cause of a processing exception occurring – but it does happen!
4. The Flight The Package Was Supposed To Be On Was Delayed Or Cancelled
Unfortunately, this one is outside of USPS’ control.
USPS handles package transportation all across the country. And with so many flights leaving each day carrying packages, it’s inevitable that some will go wrong.
If a plane is unable to take off or a flight is cancelled entirely, a processing exception may be listed on your tracking page.
Sometimes, USPS will specify that the delay was caused by weather – but not always!
5. USPS Needs An Actual Employee To Inspect The Package
I know I’ve said it multiple times already, but USPS facilities are meant to be as automated as possible. This means that in the overwhelming majority of cases, packages are processed completely automatically, and prepared for wherever they’re headed next.
If something requires an actual employee to pull your package aside and inspect it however, this will cause a delay. One such example would be an inadequate amount of postage paid.
As a former eCommerce seller, I once sent an entire shipment of products that had the wrong weight marked on the shipping label. This also meant that I underpaid the amount of postage for each label that I bought. The post office I shipped from didn’t catch it, but USPS noticed later on!
Thankfully, it’s in USPS’ best interests to get the package going back through the sorting facility as quickly as possible. So, it’s possible that this won’t add more than 1 business day to the product’s final delivery time.
If this is the cause, it’s common to see a message stating ‘other delay’ appear next to ‘processing exception.’
6. The Package Was Sorted Incorrectly
Considering the amount of packages that USPS sorting facilities process each day, there are bound to be mistakes that happen.
Even modern technology isn’t perfect!
Sometimes, packages get sorted incorrectly, and end up getting sent to the wrong location.
When this happens, it’s not as simple as simply mailing it closer to your address. Sometimes, the package has to go farther away in order to be processed correctly, even when nothing goes wrong.
If it ends up at the wrong sorting center however, it may end up getting sent back to the one that it was at previously so it can be properly sorted.
Unfortunately, this is what causes processing exception loops – where the message keeps appearing over and over again.
7. The Package Contents Need To Be Checked
Finally, it’s also possible that the contents of the package itself needs to be checked.
Note that USPS cannot open certain types of mail without a warrant. If a warrant has been obtained however (often by USPS suspecting that you’re shipping something illegal), than the package will be manually pulled aside and opened.
This is of course, extremely rare, and shouldn’t apply to the overwhelming majority of people.
However, it is a possible reason that the processing exception message would be listed, which is why I wanted to mention it.
If USPS States That There’s Been A Processing Exception, Does This Mean That My Package Is Lost?
It’s natural to worry about the status of your package, especially if you are stuck in a processing exception ‘loop’, there the same message keeps repeating itself for several days.
Thankfully, you probably don’t have to worry about it being lost.
USPS is well equipped to deal with even the most extreme of scenarios – after all, they process an average of 23.8 million packages every day.
Losing a package is extremely rare, and although strange scenarios like this one do pop up, they ultimately get sorted out eventually.
Therefore, you shouldn’t consider your package lost – it may simply take a little bit longer to arrive.
More on that in the next section!
How Will This Affect The Delivery Of My Package? When Will It Arrive?
If your package isn’t lost, when should you expect it to arrive?
Most of the time, the ‘Processing Exception’ message only appears once, and remains there for one day. And thankfully, any delay caused by a processing exception tends to be limited to one delivery day.
That being said, the exact length of the delay will depend heavily on the underlying cause for the processing exception – and although many different causes were listed above, it’s usually impossible to find out exactly which one applies in your unique situation.
Thankfully, USPS will still attempt to deliver packages within the promised delivery window, and may even go to extra lengths to expedite your package if it has fallen behind.
For reference, a table with USPS delivery times can be found below, broken down by the shipping service used.
|Speed (Business Days):
|USPS Marketing Mail
|USPS Retail Ground
|Parcel Select Lightweight
|Parcel Select Ground
|First-Class Package Service
|Priority Mail Express
|Next Day - 2 Days, Guaranteed
If the processing exception occurred earlier on in your shipment, this gives USPS more time to try and make up for it, and ensure that your package still arrives on time.
However, there are still things you’ll need to do in order to ensure that there aren’t any further delays – as believe it or not, some of it is within your control! These tips will be covered in the next section.
What Should I Do Now?
So, what should you do to ensure that your package arrives on time?
The most important thing you can do is to pay attention to further tracking updates – especially as your package gets close to delivery.
Certain issues – such as an illegible label, can come back to haunt you later on in the delivery process. USPS may not be able to locate the address listed on the package, which can result in further delays.
Thankfully, USPS is often much more descriptive of the problem when it comes to delivery. Here are some of the most common messages you’ll see on your tracking page, and what they mean:
- No authorized recipient available – The package needed to be signed for, but no authorized person was present to sign for it.
- No such number – The package was sent to an address or apartment number that does not exist.
- Forward expired – The package was sent to your old address, and needed to be forwarded to your current address. However, the forwarding period expired (it is typically 12 months for permanent address changes, unless you pay to extend it.)
- No secure location available – There was no secure location available to leave the package, and it was too big to fit in the mailbox.
- No access to delivery location – USPS could not physically access your address (due to closed roads, a locked gate, or something else.)
- Addressee unknown – The name that the package was addressed to is not a known resident of this address.
- Delivery attempted, no notice left – USPS attempted to deliver the package, but was unable to do so. Often the package needed to be signed for, but nobody was available to sign it.
If you see one of the above messages appear on your tracking page, examine the cause and take the appropriate steps to fix it. You can also click on the error message above to learn more about how to deal with that specific message.
If your package has been stuck on ‘processing exception’ for more than a week, it may be a good idea to contact both USPS, and the shipper. The shipper may consider your package late or lost, and give you a refund or replacement.
If USPS is telling you that there’s been a processing exception, this means that something went wrong at their automated sorting centers that’s preventing the package from moving forward.
Most of the time, the cause is identified and fixed quickly, resulting in minimal delays to shipments. However, in some cases, it can take a week or longer for packages to arrive after a processing exception occurs.
I hope that you’ve found this article insightful, and you have a better understanding on why processing exceptions occur.
If you have any other questions about USPS, ask them below and I’ll be happy to help.
Wishing you the best,
– James McAllister