Save by Knowing Your Shipping & Mailing Options

Having been operating an online business for the past 2.5 years, I have almost come to take my knowledge of mailing and shipping options for granted and consider it common knowledge. However, a recent incident at my local USPS Post Office made be realize that this is not the case and that a lot of people are probably paying a lot more for services than they need to be, merely because they are unaware of their options.

Queen Victoria Mailing a Package from Samantha at the World’s Fair by Marietta Holley (Publiic Domain)A few months ago, while I was at my local USPS Post Office to pick up a registered letter, a man came in with a stack of 5 or 6 DVDs and asked the mail clerk at the next window how he could mail his DVDs. Instead of explaining his various options to him, she merely recommended the Flat Rate Priority Mail Box, and unaware of his other options the customer took her advice and proceeded to pay $8.95 to mail his DVDs. Being somewhat of an introvert in public (and having had a previous problem with that particular mail clerk), I held my tongue at the time, telling myself it wasn’t any of my business and that I would only cause problems.

This incident riled me because the customer could have mailed his 5 or 6 DVDs for a lot less than $9.00. I have weighed a stack of 6 DVDs, including a few 2-Disc Collections, and they weighed in at about 1.5 lbs. A stack of 6 single-disc DVDs weigh in at just over 20 oz. Even if he had had 8 DVDs, the entire package, counting the box and contents, would have weighed in at 3 lbs. and he could have mailed it for $2.81 using Media Mail or “Book Rate”, less than a third of the price he paid for the Flat Rate Priority Mail. Granted, Priority Mail does take less time than Media Mail, but my experience with Media Mail in the past couple of years has been that it is a lot quicker than you’d think; I have had Media Mail from across the country arrive in as little as 3-4 days.

I learned from this incident that we cannot always rely on our postal clerks for shipping advice. While I have met many nice and helpful USPS clerks in the past, the unfortunate truth is that there are many whose main agenda is getting rid of customers as quickly as possible rather than helping them. So I have decided to provide an overview of common shipping options that every postal customer should have some basic knowledge of.

USPS Package Shipping Options

  • First-Class Mail
    • Time: 2-5 business days
    • Cost: Starting at $1.13 for 1 oz. up to $3.17 for 13 oz.
    • Description: This is a good option for small and light-weigh items, including a single book or DVD with a total weight (envelope + item) up to 6 oz. as it would only cost you $1.98 as opposed to the 1 lb. Media Mail Rate of $2.13, and is faster than Media Mail. Using a padded envelope is highly recommended to prevent damage to the book or DVD.
  • Media Mail (Book Rate)
    • Time: 2-9 business days
    • Cost: Staring at $2.13 for 1 lb. up to $25.26 for 70 lbs.
    • Description: Can be used for “books, film, manuscripts, printed music, printed test materials, sound recordings, play scripts, printed educational charts, loose-leaf pages and binders consisting of medical information, videotapes, and computer-recorded media like CDs and diskettes”, but cannot contain advertising.
  • Parcel Post
    • Time: 2-9 business days
    • Cost: Starting at $4.50 and increases with weight and distance (zones)
    • Description: Can be used for general shipments of gifts, merchandise, etc.
  • Priority Mail
    • Time: 2-3 business days
    • Cost: Starting at $4.60 and increases with weight and distance (zone)
    • Description: Can be used for general shipments of gifts, merchandise, etc.

Note: The 1 lb. Parcel Post rate being only $0.10 less than the 1 lb. rate for Priority Mail which only takes 2-3 days, you might find it worth the extra $0.10 to upgrade to Priority Mail, as I feel, the less time spent in transit, the less chances for loss or damage to the parcel.

A few tips for saving on shipping:

  • When you buy things online, save the nicer boxes and packing material. There is no need to spend $2.00-$3.00 to buy new shipping boxes when you can re-use older ones as long as they don’t have dents or tears.
  • When packing your shipments, make sure you pad excess space with packing material to prevent damage from jostling. Newspapers are a good, inexpensive filler, but if you use a lot, they can end up costing you more if you exceed the lb. threshold.
  • Don’t be stingy with tape. It is a good idea to tape all the open seams. Insured packages must be completely sealed in order to qualify for claims.
  • Always include a packing slip clearly displaying the destination. Listing the package contents won’t hurt either. In the event that the package is damaged or torn, USPS will still be able to direct it on to its intended recipient rather than to the lost and unclaimed items auction.
  • If you do a lot of shipping, a reliable postal scale can save you time, money and trips to the post office, because you will know exactly how much each package weighs and not have any surprises when you get to the post office.
  • Another way to save time and money is to use online shipping options, which will be the topic of my next post “Save Money & Time with Online Shipping”.

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