Meet the Carriers – First USPS

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The service of choice for most small internet shops is the USPS  — the Post Office.  It’s interesting to note that there are other carrier options that are cost effective and superior for some shipments that might be overlooked.  We’ll discuss that in future posts.

The USPS actively promotes their package shipping services – most notably Priority Mail, their 2-3 day service.  The reason is that it is profitable for them in an otherwise sea of red ink.  Since they are already delivering to every mailbox and PO Box in the US 6 days a week anyway, the marginal cost of carrying, sorting, and delivering packages – particularly smaller ones, is very low.

Services aimed at small internet shops are:

  • Priority Mail                  2-3 day service Best for shipments under one cubic foot
  • 1st Class Package       2-3 day service For shipments 13 ounces and less
  • Standard Mail               2-9 day service Purchased at the Post Office
  • Parcel Select               2-9 day service Purchased online from approved sites

Standard Mail (formerly Parcel Post) and Parcel Select are basically the same service except that the Parcel Select labels and postage must be purchased online.  Parcel Select is discounted to reflect the labor savings of not involving USPS employees in the purchase transaction.

Priority Mail has similar discounting (about 12%) if it is purchased online with a shipping label either on the USPS.com website or at another approved site rather than at a Post Office.

1st Class Package postage can be purchased at any USPS branch or printed with labels from some approved, non-USPS sites.

Any of the labels purchased online come with a tracking number and barcode that allow free USPS tracking.  According to the USPS, these are scanned each time the packages go through a USPS sorting or delivery station, including when it is delivered to the mailbox or PO Box.  The results can be tracked online.

The jury still seems to be out on this service as there are complaints of missing scan information and long delays between scans causing uncertainty about expected delivery dates.   My personal experience has shown this to be a reasonable tracking mechanism, but perhaps not yet at the reliable levels offered by the private commercial carriers.  What do you think?

Using the USPS services involve a trade-off between speed, package visibility, convenience, and quality versus cost.  I’ll discuss the some of the USPS services in more detail in my next post.

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