Courier depot staff using handheld barcode readers to scan parcels

Do couriers scan parcels?

Whether or not a courier will scan your parcel will depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • which courier or postal service you use
  • where the parcel is going
  • what it contains
  • the level of tracking service you have chosen.

Most reputable couriers now offer real-time tracking of your parcel by using a scanning process. However, you should always check the details of the tracking service offered.

Courier delivery driver handing a tracked package to customer at destination after final scan

UK parcel collection checks

Depending on your parcel’s destination, some couriers will ask to see the contents of a parcel. This is very much down to the individual courier’s internal policies. They are less likely to ask if the parcel is for delivery within the UK, but some countries may have their own regulations requiring inspection.

There may be circumstances wherein your courier may insist on seeing what is in the package: if it smells or looks suspicious or strange, if it appears damaged or, most importantly, if it is to be shipped overseas by air.

Real-time tracking

The scanning process used by most couriers is designed to generate tracking information, i.e. up-to-date information about the details of the parcel’s route and delivery status, including estimated delivery date and time of delivery.

By using a courier that employs a robust tracking system, you’ll be able to access accurate updates of your parcel’s whereabouts 24 hours a day, even outside of the UK.

While the Post Office does offer a tracking service, it is often less precise and detailed than you will get with a courier service.

How a parcel scan works

Most of us are now used to delivery drivers carrying a handheld device on which they record a delivery. But how does the whole process work when you send a parcel?

Allocation of a code to your parcel

Whether you deliver your parcel to a drop-off centre or it is collected by the courier, as soon as your parcel is in the courier’s care it will be allocated with a barcode. This is a unique reference number which can then be used to track progress, destination details, buyer’s contact details, etc.

Standard scan

Once your parcel has a barcode, it will be scanned at numerous strategic points along the parcel’s journey, typically:

  • when it’s received by the courier;
  • when it’s taken to the depot for sorting;
  • when it’s loaded and dispatched for delivery;
  • if it is dispatched to a different depot for delivery or to a port.
  • when it is received by another depot (either within the UK or overseas)

In short, your parcel will be scanned at every point along its journey to confirm it has been received or dispatched (in and out of depot) until such time as it is delivered.

At the point of delivery, a final scan will record details of the handover, such as the time, who received the parcel or where it was left. Some handheld delivery devices now take photo of the recipient.

Recipient checking and signing for a tracked parcel delivery after driver's barcode scan

Scan data is recorded  

All the data received from the scanning process is stored in the courier’s tracking database. As a customer, you can usually access this information at any point, provided you have been given a tracking code.

International dispatch

All international deliveries must pass through though customs. Not every single parcel will be opened but some will be. Most will be X-rayed to ensure no banned or restricted items are contained in the package.

There are several reasons that may cause your parcel to be delayed at customs. These include if it is suspicious, if the paperwork has errors or inconsistencies, or if there are customs charges to be paid.

Customs officer using x-ray machine to scan contents of package

If your parcel is delayed at customs, a good tracking service will indicate a change in status depending on what the issue is. That means you’ll be able to see why your parcel has been delayed and when it has cleared customs. Once your parcel has cleared customs it will continue to your courier’s depot, where it will be scanned again.

If your parcel is important, valuable or speed is of the essence, a good tracking service is essential. Checking whether your parcel has been scanned normally just involves you logging on to your courier’s tracking service portal in a web browser or phone app.

At Impact Express, we offer world-class parcel tracking services – providing you with all the information you need to be assured of your parcel’s integrity, security and punctuality. If you’d like more information, please get in touch.


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