EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 259 - March 21, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 8

United States Postal Service Answers Your Shipping Questions

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In February, we asked readers to submit questions they would like answered by the U.S. Postal Service. Dave Lewin, a spokesperson for USPS, provided us with answers to some of your questions. You can see the original blog post with questions from readers on this AuctionBytes Blog post.

Mr. Lewin also said readers who wished to be contacted by a sales representative to hear about ways to grow their business through the Postal Service can send an email to and include name, address, telephone number and other contact information. The USPS will respond within 48 hours.

Question: Flat-rate shipping options for small & large boxes are not available for postage labels on Paypal, only medium if offered... why?

USPS: USPS is not in control of offerings that other businesses make. However, it continually works with its partners to encourage them to offer as many USPS options as possible.

Note from the Editor: A week after we opened the blog to questions, eBay made small and large boxes available through PayPal Shipping (See this blog post).

Question: Is there any way a small business can negotiate rates with you?

USPS: It depends upon the size of the business. Businesses that meet certain volume requirements may be eligible for Commercial Plus Pricing. Businesses that don't ship enough to reach those volume thresholds may be able to use the services of a reseller, who may be able to offer lower-than-retail rates.

Currently, Express1 and United Shipping Solutions are USPS-approved resellers. More information about Commercial Plus Pricing is available online.

Question: USPS is giving volume discounts to large volume businesses which means as a small business owner I can't effectively compete in the marketplace. USPS is providing preferential treatment.

USPS:Not so. As is the case with all goods and services, shipping prices are subject to economies of scale. This means that the more a company ships with the Postal Service, the less it costs to handle its packages. Therefore, the Postal Service can offer a price that reflects the level of reduced costs involved in handling the shipping.

And to correct the record, small businesses can indeed get a discount, simply by using USPS Click-N-Ship or an approved online postage provider. They can also avail themselves of the services of a USPS-approved reseller.

Question: I seldom ship anything over 3lbs via USPS ... Why isn't USPS competitive when shipping larger and heavier items?

USPS:Federal law requires the Postal Service to cover its costs. That means it's against the law for it to offer loss leaders, which are products or services sold at lower-than-normal prices. Every single package the Postal Service ships has to be profitable, as a matter of law. That means the Postal Service has to charge what it costs to ship. Heavier packages, and packages traveling longer distances, obviously cost more to ship.

So why can other carriers charge less in some (but certainly not all) cases? Because private shippers can offer loss leaders. This means that while every single package they ship isn't profitable, they still can be profitable overall, by using their lower prices to entice larger shippers to bring their business to them, to gain a larger share of the shipping market, or to lure in other, more profitable packages. Unfortunately, the Postal Service doesn't have that specific pricing flexibility.

It's also important to note that lightweight packages are, in fact, rarely cheaper with other carriers, when the actual outlay is factored in. The Postal Service does not charge for fuel, for residential delivery, for rural delivery, or for Saturday delivery. In fact, the other major carriers in the U.S. shipping market levy as many as 43 different surcharges. And other carriers do not offer free packaging, or free pickup.

Question: I'd like to see a cube-shaped flat rate box available. The current set are all too shallow.

USPS: The Postal Service constantly considers new products and services that will appeal to the American public. If it determines that there is enough demand for a certain box size, and that it's a good fit for the Postal Service, it will be seriously considered. That's what happened with the Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box, one of the more recent additions to the Priority Mail product lineup - there was enough demand that offering it made sense, both for customers and the Postal Service.

Also, you may find that the Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box might meet your needs.

International Shipping
Mr. Lewin provided the following statement about international shipping.

USPS: The Postal Service is committed to meeting customers' needs. We understand customers need convenient access points and reliable service with tracking capability at a reasonable price. The Postal Service provides a variety of international document and package services to meet those needs. Each provides a different level of service and features at a different price. Committed to quality improvement, the Postal Service has several alliances and contractual agreements with Posts and service providers worldwide focused on service improvement and scanning capabilities. Through bilateral discussions, the U.S. Postal Service continues to develop international shipping solutions to enhance our business customers' experience.

Question: There should be a way that both Sellers & Buyers are able to track International Packages without having to pay any additional fees.

Question: There needs to be a viable tracking option for overseas packages that is cost effective. Any ideas on that?

USPS: Priority Mail International (PMI) parcels provide customers with a reliable and economical means of sending correspondence and merchandise weighing up to 70 pounds to over 190 countries and territories worldwide. Tracking is not available for Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelopes or Small Flat Rate Boxes as these are recognized internationally as Letter Post (under 4 lbs.) products.

There are two more expedited shipping options which offer tracking - Global Express Guaranteed (GXG) service and Express Mail International (EMI) service.

Question: Does the USPS have any future plans to offer a form of Delivery Confirmation for international packages? Even if limited to specific countries capable of handling the scanning upon delivery, it would be a big plus. Affordability of such a service would also be important, as I seldom ever use Registered Mail due to its high cost.

USPS: Confirmation of delivery is available with Global Express Guaranteed, Express Mail International and Priority Mail International parcels. Currently there is no confirmation of delivery for First-Class Mail International and Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelope and Small Flat Rate box items other than Registered Mail service which provides security and limited indemnity protection. If it would be of value to show proof of mailing, a customer today can purchase a Certificate of Mailing as evidence of mailing only. The fee paid for certificates of mailing does not insure the item against loss or damage.

Question: It's been mentioned already, but we would definitely use an affordable version of delivery confirmation (online viewable) for International First Class Mail. This would be especially useful for Canada, UK, Australia, and Japan where we ship the most; we might even ship to Italy again if it were available there.

USPS: First Class Mail International provides the most affordable delivery worldwide. It is an economical way to send letters, large envelopes, small packages, postal cards, printed matter, and small packets 4 pounds and under and as such does not provide confirmation of delivery.

Question: Why do they claim there is tracking on international priority & insurance included, but yet they give us NO documentation of this & make it hard to pursue claims? USPS would be making lots more from me if I could RELIABLY ship internationally again. The biggest question seems to be TRACKING, or the lack of it. It's such a ripoff to pay for a useless piece of paper just because of stupid PP rules.

USPS: As Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelopes and Small Flat Rate Boxes are included in the international Letter Post class (4 lbs. and under), tracking is not available for these items. Priority Mail International parcels however, do provide confirmation of delivery to major destinations worldwide. Indemnity is included on ordinary, uninsured parcels which is limited to the lesser of the actual value or the maximum indemnity based on weight. Insurance service may be purchased at an additional rate if insurance is available to that country.

Question: The customs information for Italy is WAY out of date and needs to get fixed. There's nobody at the post office who knows who handles it. I've emailed, called and talked to people at my local office. Besides "I dunno" the "best" I got was one reading me what the USPS has in their manual and the other told me to talk to Italy's Customs - and they don't reply to any emails I've sent. We have absolutely no way to communicate with USPS besides this. If I lived in Canada, I'd have no problem shipping clothing, purses or shoes to Italy. Cross the border to the US and we have cooties and cannot ship that stuff there cause Italy "prohibits" it. Except if you review the customs prohibitions list for Italy at (PDF file)that says ''nil'' Can we get that stuff fixed so it's reflecting the current customs prohibitions?

USPS: Country prohibitions are established by originating* and destinating countries. Current country specific requirements for most frequently mailed items are available to U.S. Postal Service employees and customers on Postal Explorer at and information is updated as soon as it is received from the other Posts. To assure we have the latest information, the Italian Post will be contacted and the prohibitions list currently appearing in the International Mail Manual (IMM) will be verified. Several pages of prohibitions and restrictions to Italy are available on the UPU website at In regards to clothing, purses and shoes, many of the potential restrictions and prohibitions are dependent upon the products and materials used in creating these articles.

*If an item is prohibited in the domestic mail stream, it is prohibited in international mail.

Question: Why does International Priority Flat Rate box or envelope take as long as 3-4 weeks to Europe and other parts of the world but regular Priority Int'l is much quicker. Is this really Priority Mail or a more expensive version of First Class Mail?

USPS: Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelope and Small Flat Rate Box are Letter Post class items. It is unusual for this class of mail to take 3 - 4 weeks to Europe and other parts of the world and we assume this is an anomaly. The unique packaging of the Priority Mail International Envelope and Small Flat Rate box generates preferred delivery in the destination country. Performance information shared between posts for air parcel products reflect a high percentage of on-time delivery.

Thanks to Mr. Lewin and others at the USPS for providing these answers, visit the AuctionBytes Blog to leave a comment.

About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to

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