I don’t mail or receive a lot of packages at the moment, but a few years ago, I was in the process of shrinking my DVD and book collections, and was selling a lot of it on Amazon and eBay. At the same time, I always seem to have a few items being shipped to me, and with all the tracking numbers being emailed back and forth, it can get a little hectic trying to keep them all straight. Was the Superman DVD being shipped UPS or USPS? And what got picked up by FedEx? The Chronicles of Narnia hardcovers or the Hard Target DVD? If I’d only had Pactrac, an extension for Google Chrome that makes it easy to keep track of, and track, all your tracking numbers, I wouldn’t have been nearly as frazzled as I was.
Pactrac is amazingly simple to use, and is incredibly useful. First, it’s one of the few web browser extensions I’ve used that not only doesn’t have any configuration options, but it doesn’t really need them. I know… shocking! It works by scanning every web page you have open, and when it “recognizes” a tracking number from a common shipper like UPS, FedEx or the USPS, it offers to save it for you. It can do this because different shippers use their own, distinct patterns for their tracking numbers. Below is a tracking number for an item I ordered last year, just before Christmas:
If you enter that series of numbers and letters into a Google search, it is recognized as a UPS tracking number. FedEx tracking numbers are formatted their own way, as are USPS tracking numbers. Because of this, Google – and the Pactrac extension – can identify them, and offer to save them for you.
All you need to do to have Pactrac save a tracking number is go to a web page that displays your number. This could be the confirmation email you received from the store where you made your purchase, or the actual shipper’s tracking page. Once the page has loaded, click the Pactrac icon and you’ll see the number has been identified. Simply click where it tells you to “Enter item description…” and give it a name that will help you recognize the item being shipped (“Grandma’s cookie jar”), and then hit the plus sign. The black background will turn to light blue, and from then on, simply clicking the shipper’s name will take you to the tracking page for that item.
You’ll also notice that once you have an item saved, you’ll see a red badge appear over the Pactrac toolbar icon. The badge will contain the number of items you’re currently tracking. Once an item has arrived, you can remove the item from the Pactrac list by clicking the minus sign on the right side of the entry. Simple!
Pactrac is not a complicated tool. It’s basically allowing you to bookmark the tracking page on your shipper’s website, then giving you an easy way to delete it when the package has arrived. It isn’t actually scouring the shipper’s website for you, and it won’t provide updates. When the package arrives in your city’s shipping hub, for instance, you won’t get a pop-up notification about this. It’s not that kind of a tool. What it is, and this is fine with me, is a nice place to keep everything you need to watch over, so nothing gets overlooked or forgotten. It looks good, is very easy to use, and is smart enough to recognize tracking numbers and the companies doing the shipping. Until something better comes along (with those automated status updates), Pactrac is an excellent choice.