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What Happens to Unclaimed Packages?

by Sifted Team

Jun 22, 2023

6 min read

Unclaimed packages refers to letters or parcels that cannot be delivered as addressed for one of a number of reasons. Losing mail can be a frustrating experience. It can cause delays, wasted shipping costs, and a poor customer experience.

Have you ever thought about what happens to those undelivered packages or Amazon returns? These liquidated Amazon boxes often end up at a local swap meet or liquidation sites like Swap Madness.

Also, unclaimed package auctions offer a solution to the waste problem of unclaimed packages. eCommerce sites sell these packages as mystery boxes, ensuring that every package finds an owner instead of ending up in landfills.

This article explains the reasons behind unclaimed packages and how shippers and carriers deal with them.


Why Packages Go Unclaimed

Every year, thousands of Amazon and USPS packages never make it to their destination. There are many possible reasons that lead to unclaimed mail. Common issues include:

  • Wrong or unreadable addresses
  • The recipient was unavailable at the intended address when a signature is required
  • The recipient refused to pay customs fees for items imported into the US
  • The package was too large to fit in the mailbox
  • The package could not be left in a secure place
  • The recipient moved and didn’t leave a forwarding address

If the package is not claimed within 90 days, it’s often auctioned off or sold to liquidators.


How Carriers and Shippers Handle Unclaimed Packages

Here are the steps shipping companies and carriers take to manage unclaimed packages.

Initial Attempts to Deliver the Package

When the delivery service is unable to successfully deliver a package, the driver usually leaves a redelivery notice at the intended address and brings the package back to the carrier warehouse. The notice provides instructions for the recipient to schedule redelivery through the carrier’s website or by visiting the local post office.

Storage of Unclaimed Packages

When packages cannot be delivered, they are taken to a storage facility. The packages are examined and scanned to identify any valuable items inside. The center also tries to locate the owners of the packages. In the case of USPS packages, they are sent to the Mail Recovery Center, which serves as a lost-and-found center for unclaimed packages.

Return to Sender

If the recipient cannot receive the package on the second delivery attempt, carriers will send a reminder with a final notice return date. The package will be returned to the sender if a third and final delivery attempt is unsuccessful.

If the package can’t be delivered back to the sender, USPS holds packages that are determined as valuable at their Mail Recovery Center, which is often referred to as the U.S. Postal Service’s official “lost and found” department.

Auction or Disposal of Unclaimed Packages

If the rightful owner does not claim a package sent through the USPS, the contents of the package are then sometimes sold by auction.

The U.S. Postal Service auctions unclaimed items on GovDeals.com. Auction sites like Liquidation.com let you purchase unclaimed Amazon packages as individual items, pallets, or a truckload of mystery packages.

In addition, there are liquidation companies that sell unclaimed packages from Home Depot, Walmart, and Amazon. There are thousands of unboxing videos of people opening their USPS and Amazon mystery boxes on social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.

Some sellers purchase these products in large quantities and then sell them individually on eCommerce sites like eBay, Poshmark, and Facebook Marketplace.

Legal Considerations

Shipping carriers and Amazon take great care to screen and deliver mail. After the determined waiting period, shipping companies are no longer legally responsible for lost or damaged unclaimed packages.

Valuable items that remain unclaimed are sold individually through auctions, rather than in bulk, which means that buyers can purchase individual items from shipping companies. Any unclaimed paper mail is either sold or destroyed, and personal or sensitive information on packages is disposed of.

Environmental Impact

If a shipment fails to reach its destination or is rejected by the recipient, it is not a favorable outcome. Without a strong reselling and reusing system, eCommerce returns are likely to end up in landfills.

As a solution, the aforementioned unclaimed package auctions attract eCommerce sites and small businesses that sell the packages as mystery boxes to individual buyers. This business model reduces the surplus of packages ending up in the landfills, promoting environmental sustainability by reducing waste.


Report: 2023 eCommerce Sustainability 

Reduce the Frequency of Unclaimed Packages with Sifted

As unclaimed packages increase in prevalence, it becomes urgent that shippers do their part to reduce their frequency.

Sifted Logistics Intelligence offers shippers visibility into the health of their shipping operations, helping them quickly identify and file claims for packages lost or damaged due to carrier mistakes, or identify errors, such as incorrect addresses, that can help limit unclaimed packages in the future.

Limit the impact of unclaimed packages. Try a free demo of Sifted today!


Check out related resources at Sifted.

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