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More on USPS Postage Rate Changes – and Should You Fear Italy?

Online sellers keep a close eye on shipping costs, and this week we’ve been bringing you content about the USPS postage rate changesthat took effect on Sunday. In keeping with the theme of saving time and money, here is additional perspective on what online sellers need to know about USPS rates from Endicia’s Amine Khechfe.

You may also be wondering if the new USPS Tracking International Service, which has recently expanded to even more countries, makes it safer to ship to countries with a reputation for poor postal systems (we were certainly wondering). Read Khechfe’s response to whether sellers should still be wary about countries such as Italy.

What are the top things online sellers need to know about this year’s USPS rate change?

Amine Khechfe: First, let’s talk about Priority Mail. High volume discounts once reserved for the bigger boys are more accessible this year. The minimum volume thresholds for both Commercial Plus and Commercial Plus Cubic decreased from 75,000 and 150,000 (respectively) to just 50,000 packages. This means big savings for smaller sellers.

Second, online sellers should be warned that Parcel Select rates have increased significantly. We’re talking an average of 41.6 percent versus 2013. Take note that the biggest increase is for packages weighing more than seven pounds. Believe it or not, Priority Mail Commercial Base prices are now lower than Parcel Select for all one-pound packages and most packages going to Zones 1 through 4!

This should excite sellers who ship with Parcel Select – if that’s your business, I highly recommend comparing your rates with new Priority Mail prices for bigger savings and faster deliveries.

Third, good news with Priority Mail Express. USPS now offers a 10:30 a.m. delivery option for an extra five dollars. Also, a new Zone 9 was introduced for Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau. This was a smart move by USPS because it minimized increases for Zones 1-8.

Are there cases where shippers who use FedEx and UPS need to look at the USPS rates – are there any sweet spots now they can take advantage of?

Amine Khechfe: There’s no doubt that USPS offers the most competitive rate for small package shipments going to residential addresses. We actually put together an infographic comparing the new rates for USPS, FedEx and UPS – and specifically – what the cost would be to ship various packages under 4 pounds to consumers’ homes. The graph shows that USPS always comes out on top, partially because they do not tack on fuel and residential delivery surcharges.

So if you are shipping direct to consumer exclusively through FedEx and UPS (and your packages are generally lightweight) you should check out USPS rates.

Even if your shipments are over 4 pounds – if they are compact – you could potentially save money by using USPS Flat Rate boxes. They have no weight restrictions and pricing is based solely on the destination region. That’s certainly a sweet spot for businesses selling small, yet heavy, objects.

Some merchants avoid selling to Italy as its postal service is considered a “challenge” – with the new USPS Tracking International Service expanding to Italy, what’s the outlook now? Should sellers still be wary?

Amine Khechfe: A lot of the challenges with shipping goods to Italy lie in its complicated customs process. For example, they don’t allow for the import of leather goods, which can affect retailers selling purses, belt or shoes. They also don’t allow for the import of bells or musical instruments – and there’s much more on the list.

Many online sellers aren’t aware of these restrictions and therefore run into problems with delivery. And while having USPS international tracking can help sellers keep track of where goods are in route, it won’t solve the problem of customs.

Instead, sellers should look for a software solution that can integrate into their current process and inform them of any potential bans or restrictions for the country they are shipping to, before they ship a product. Endicia’s software does this and has proved to be useful to many of our customers.

Knowing a countries restrictions and bans before you ship, and then utilizing USPS Tracking International, can help your business avoid problems when shipping to Italy and other countries throughout the world.

What are some tips for online retailers who are looking to save time when managing the entire shipping process, from purchasing postage, label printing, to communicating with buyers?

Amine Khechfe: With stiff competition whittling away online retailers’ bottom lines, every second is crucial for maintaining a profitable business. Opt for a software solution that will automate much of the shipping process by verifying addresses, completing necessary forms and flagging package requirements to create a hiccup-free shipping process. For example, I’ve had customers tell me they’ve saved 20 to 30 percent on labor costs by using Endicia versus preparing shipping labels by hand.

Another tip: Don’t waste time traveling to the Post Office to drop off packages. Instead, schedule carrier pickups. USPS allows you to order free packaging supplies online so you can fill packages at your own convenience and then schedule a pickup time that works for you.

When it comes to communicating with customers, online sellers should look into automating shipping notices so that their buyers always know the status of their shipments. Another “nice detail” is customizing your shipping labels – it helps add a personal touch to the buyer-retailer relationship. Plus, it’s fairly easy to add your logo or branded message to a template so it’s included in every label you print.

Final thought: International markets have become much more easily accessible due to advanced USPS package tracking. The 2014 USPS price change saw little increase (and in some cases, a decrease) to international shipping rates, making this market more attainable than ever. And with software services which automatically complete international custom forms for you, there really is no reason for online sellers not to be expanding abroad.

What kinds of efficiencies do online postage providers like Endicia provide to merchants?

Amine Khechfe: Using an online postage provider like Endicia allows merchants to receive additional discounts from USPS. For example, with this year’s USPS price change, users of online postage providers, like Endicia, will save an extra penny on letter mail. Doesn’t sound like much, but this is significant since it’s the first time USPS has ever reduced the price of stamps through electronic means, and these savings can add up for an online seller.

In addition to saving money directly with USPS, Endicia customers save time. Our technology eliminates trips to the Post Office and allows for customized shipment notifications. We believe in easy-to-use software that anyone could use – even kids! In fact, one of our customers – Goat Milk Stuff, a family-run soap business – gets a kick from labeling competitions between their children.

Endicia’s international software allows online sellers to easily manage the otherwise complicated process of shipping abroad. In fact, Endicia customers increase revenues by at least 10 percent, on average.

You can read more about the 2014 USPS postage rate changes and about Endicia’s services here.

Ina Steiner on EmailIna Steiner on LinkedinIna Steiner on Twitter
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
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 ina@ecommercebytes.com.