Various shipping options and their pros/cons

31 views
Skip to first unread message

JoSH Lehan

unread,
Jul 14, 2004, 2:34:47 PM7/14/04
to
There has been some confusion lately regarding the myriad of available
shipping options for shipping small packages, so hopefully this will
clear things up. Here's a magnum opus of shipping options!

Shipping from USA to USA (domestic)....

The post office's website is surprisingly good at letting you do
metering (pre-printing of postage, away from the post office, a real
time-saver and very nice for businesses to have). The dotcom company
Stamps.com is highly recommended, as they have a standalone program
that runs independently of the post office's website, so it can
respond faster!

If you use metering for all of your packages (except for stamped
letters weighing very little), and don't need any insurance or Express
Mail, you can just drop off your packages at the post office counter
without needing to wait in line! Most post offices have an unmarked
area that they prefer packages be dropped off at - ask. They will
even give you free "tubs" (postal bins) for next time, if you're a
frequent customer and they get to know your face.

First Class Mail:

Most cost-effective for very lightweight items. Price is by ounces,
and ramps up smoothly from the 1-ounce rate ($0.37) to almost exactly
the Priority Mail rate for the maximum of 15-or-so ounces (just under
a pound). No firm delivery time, but usually within a week. All
distances are same price.

Anything that's not completely flat is charged at a minimum of 2
ounces ($0.60), even if it weighs less. Bizarrely, metering can only
be done for envelopes that are either completely flat or more than
0.75 inch thick! Anything between that thickness requires manual
stamps.

Something many people don't know is that you can use a box instead of
an envelope and still send it First-Class Mail, if your box is light
and small enough.

Priority Mail:

This is my favorite shipping option for domestic shipping! The
high-quality sturdy boxes are FREE from the post office, which is a
real win. Only problem is that the boxes aren't available in
convenient sizes - most are either very small (size of a videotape) or
very large (size of a small briefcase). There's not much in between,
except for an awkward cube-shaped box, but you can also use your own
boxes (at your cost).

Rates are by pounds, not ounces. Think of it as First Class Mail for
items heavier than one pound, with similar delivery speed. If you use
metering, delivery confirmation is FREE, another nice plus. The rate
for the first pound is always constant ($3.85 currently), plus a
charge for each additional pound. This charge varies by distance, but
this is really only noticeable when shipping heavy items, as the rate
for the first pound is always constant regardless of distance.

Priority Mail is by far the easiest to meter, making it the best
choice for businesses that ship a lot of packages!

Media Mail:

This is a special case for items that are considered "media": books,
films, videotapes, computer disks, and so forth (the list is quite
eccentric, stretching the definition of "media"). There's some kind
of special government-subsidized discount for these, making it cheaper
than usual. Otherwise, it's almost exactly like Priority Mail.
Contents may be inspected at will, to make sure they qualify (I find
it's useful to declare the contents on the box).

Express Mail:

This is the fastest shipping option, that gets it there in 2 days (1
day if you can get your item to the post office before 2:30pm,
deadlines might vary depending on the competency of your local post
office staff). It's also the most expensive, but includes built-in
insurance of $100.00 (you can optionally buy more insurance). (You
can also buy insurance with First-Class or Priority Mail, but it's not
as convenient, as it requires waiting in line at the post office and
filling in another form by hand.)

Express Mail can be metered, but if you want to get insurance for
anything over the default value or get the included proof-of-mailing
timestamp that comes for free with Express Mail, you have to wait in
line to get your form stamped.

Do NOT write the address on your package when using Express Mail! The
Express Mail form includes its own address label that the postal clerk
will affix to your package, and the post office loves to decorate
Express Mail packages with all manners of stickers, so an address
written on the box will just get in the way.

Express Mail also gives you free boxes, that can even be used
internationally (except for the long mailing tubes).

Express Mail has the best tracking and insurance the post office can
do, which makes it almost comparable to UPS and FedEx. A huge
advantage of Express Mail is that it operates on Saturdays, and also
some holidays that FedEx and UPS are completely closed on!

Parcel Post:

Not recommended, except for extremely heavy and/or large items that
are bordering on the maximum of what the Post Office will accept.
Speed of a snail. It's been obsoleted by Priority Mail in almost all
cases, and the rates are screwed up: sometimes it is actually *more*
expensive, considering that Parcel Post is one of the slowest
services! (I'm not sure of the exact weight at which Parcel Post
becomes more cost-effective, but it's pretty high, somewhere around
20+ pounds.)

UPS:

UPS is the best at delivering to large businesses. They will actually
enter the building and give the package to the correct department,
unlike the post office!

UPS really prefers delivering to businesses, and adds a nasty
surcharge to residential addresses. I call this the "UPS tax" because
there's really no way to know if an address is residential or not,
other than a lucky guess, so you wind up paying the residential
surcharge for everything in order to ensure that your packages get
through!

UPS has a nasty computer program they make you use, to meter your
packages. It works, but has the feel of something that was blindly
made according to a specification by committee, without any thought
given to the look and feel of the program or how it actually performs
to users. There's also a website that can be used.

UPS Ground is the cheapest, delivery time within a week or two (not
guaranteed, and wildly inconsistent). UPS 3-Day Select, 2-Day Air
(Blue), and 1-Day Air (Red) get it there: the faster it is, the more
expensive it is.

I've heard a nasty rumour that UPS Ground actually uses forklifts to
CRUSH packages together, to squeeze more packages into the same space!
I can't substiantate this rumour, but a ton of boxes I've seen from
UPS Ground have characteristic wrinkling on one end, where the
cardboard has crumpled and buckled....

I've also heard that UPS is internally two separate departments: Air
and Ground. I'd ship 2-Day Air or faster, to make sure that my
package goes through the Air department, if I had anything fragile or
valuable. I would NOT use UPS Ground!

UPS is better than the post office at using tracking numbers. With
the post office, it is *optional* for the clerks to scan boxes! Most
of the time, they don't. If you're serious about wanting your
packages trackable, you should use UPS or FedEx. The commerical
services scan all packages as a matter of course.

FedEx:

Like UPS, but faster and more expensive. I don't ship much FedEx so I
don't know the ins and outs of them. I have heard they are the best
at making sure your package doesn't get damaged. I have also heard
that FedEx is internally made up of many tiny companies loosely
connected together (FedEx Express, FedEx Residential Delivery, etc.),
and that they don't communicate with each other very well! It sounds
like it would be frustrating if anything goes wrong, because you know
the internal companies will just point fingers at each other....

FedEx has no standalone program at all, so every shipping order must
go through their website. Fortunately, their website is quite fast
and convenient, compared to UPS and the post office.

Shipping from USA to another country (international):

I have found that all options *require* a customs form, even when old
(pre-9/11) instructions say they don't! Canada is also now considered
to be just as foreign as any other country, as previous exemptions
that were given to Canada no longer apply. Every international
package must be dropped off in person (no drop-offs). We can probably
thank Ashcroft for this.

On customs forms, declare the value of your stuff *without* including
the shipping cost. If you are buying insurance, your declared value
for insurance must of course match the value for customs!

There's two customs forms, "little green" (2976) and "big white"
(2976-A). More often than not, you'll go to the post office with the
wrong form, and they'll make you go back in line to fill out the right
one!

Despite the instructions, keep your customs forms intact. Don't rip
off a copy for yourself, or put one in the package, like the
instructions tell you to - instead, just give the intact form to the
clerk, and let them deal with it.

If you're shipping anything valued at over $200.00-$400.00 (I forgot
the exact price cutoff), you need to attach a detailed packing list to
the package! You can then reference this on your customs form, to
save you the tedium of copying the list to the form. This should be
in one of those little clear stick-on envelopes, openable by customs,
and ideally should match the invoice you're sending to the customer.

Why are international shipping options so bizarre? Think of delicate
international treaties, negotiated by diplomats over time, and carved
in stone....

Letter-Post Air:

This is the cheapest option. No insurance available. Service to
almost every country in the world that isn't a war zone. Speed varies
by country (the more civilized countries get it faster). Must be
under four pounds, and of a fairly small size (I'm not sure of exact
dimensions). No insurance available. Bring your own boxes. LITTLE
GREEN customs form.

Parcel-Post Air:

This is just like Letter-Post Air, except it can be three times as
expensive! It's the same speed. The only reason to use this is for
things that don't qualify for Letter. Over four pounds, oversized,
and/or with insurance. If you're buying insurance, you fill out the
*domestic* insurance form (bizarre). BIG WHITE customs form.

Global Priority Mail:

Maximum weight 4 pounds, and there are also fairly strict size
requirements (length 24 inches, total length+width+height 36 inches).
Anything more must go Parcel-Post Air instead. Available to fewer
countries than Letter/Parcel-Post. Slightly faster than
Letter/Parcel-Post Air. No insurance available. LITTLE GREEN customs
form.

Global Priority Mail has one or two FREE boxes available, surprisingly
in a decent size. Do NOT use domestic Priority Mail boxes when
shipping Global! This will make the postal workers very unhappy.

There's a special flat rate available, when using FREE small envelopes
and large envelopes that they give you. This flat rate is often
cheaper than using boxes. Large envelopes are around 1 standard
letter page (8.5"x11"), and small envelopes are half that. The flat
rate varies by country (so it isn't really flat), and the rate for
large is just over the rate for small.

A caution is that these envelopes have *no padding* in them at all!
If you're mailing anything that doesn't lie completely flat, pad it
yourself, and allow extra space for this. These envelopes don't
stretch very much, and they fill up surprisingly quick!

Global Express Mail:

Strangely, uses the same forms as domestic Express Mail, even though
it goes internationally (making the boxed zipcode area on the form
somewhat useless). Includes built-in insurance of $100, more can be
bought if needed. Like many other countries, the actual
delivery/tracking of Express Mail from the USA is outsourced to EMS, a
large international company.

This has the best chance of being tracked, and is the fastest (and
most expensive) delivery option. (There might be something faster,
Global Express Guaranteed, but this service is currently in flux and
is not recommended. I think they're going to outsource this to FedEx.
In this case, you might as well just use FedEx directly.)

You can use free Express Mail boxes for both domestic and global,
unlike Priority Mail (domestic only)! Available to even fewer
countries than Global Priority Mail. BIG WHITE customs form.

Letter/Parcel-Post Economy (Surface):

Not recommended! Takes literally MONTHS to ship, and in many cases is
actually more expensive than air! You know what traveling overseas by
slow boat can do to reimported pinball machines, do you really want to
mail your packages this way?

UPS:

I have no experience shipping UPS internationally, and it's not
something I'd want to do.

FedEx:

They will ship internationally very fast, at a truly exorbitant price!
I've paid $100.00 to ship a lightweight box! They will get it faster
than most anyone else, though, so if you need it in Paris tomorrow,
use FedEx. They use a completely different waybill for international
shipments than domestic, and packages must be submitted in person (no
dropoffs). They have a customs form that needs to be filled out by
hand and then submitted in *triplicate*, for some reason, so it helps
to have access to a copier! Ask for extra copies of this form at a
FedEx office, in advance, so you don't have to fill out the same form
three times while waiting in line.

Something that is sometimes done, but is illegal to do in the United
States for businesses shipping merchandise that has been ordered, is
to write "Gift" on the customs form and declare a value of zero. If
you're caught doing this in the USA, your business could lose the
right to export any packages at all! Just be glad you're not at a
large company. I once worked at a mid-cap corporation that was
extremely paranoid of this, and actually had a full-time position of
"Export Compliance Officer"! Their sole purpose was to throw as much
red tape in my face as possible, and make it nearly impossible for me
to get anything shipped. Not that I'm bitter....

So, there you go! Hopefully this will clear up some of the confusion
on RGP regarding shipping of small packages.

Krellan

Bob E.

unread,
Jul 14, 2004, 10:59:28 PM7/14/04
to
JoSH Lehan wrote:

<snip>


>
> Shipping from USA to another country (international):
>
> I have found that all options *require* a customs form, even when old
> (pre-9/11) instructions say they don't! Canada is also now considered
> to be just as foreign as any other country, as previous exemptions
> that were given to Canada no longer apply. Every international
> package must be dropped off in person (no drop-offs). We can probably
> thank Ashcroft for this.

Depends. If you are a "known" shipper to your letter-carrier, you
can usually have them take it. Our office has no problems with a few
packages for them to take, as long as customs forms etc. are all
present. Note that your letter carrier is NOT required to take
your packages, they do it as a courtesy but if you have more than they
have room for in their truck, you might have to take it to the P.O.

> On customs forms, declare the value of your stuff *without* including
> the shipping cost. If you are buying insurance, your declared value
> for insurance must of course match the value for customs!
>
> There's two customs forms, "little green" (2976) and "big white"
> (2976-A). More often than not, you'll go to the post office with the
> wrong form, and they'll make you go back in line to fill out the right
> one!

Under 4 pounds, little green form. Over 4 pounds, big white form.


> Global Priority Mail:
>
> Maximum weight 4 pounds, and there are also fairly strict size
> requirements (length 24 inches, total length+width+height 36 inches).
> Anything more must go Parcel-Post Air instead. Available to fewer
> countries than Letter/Parcel-Post. Slightly faster than
> Letter/Parcel-Post Air. No insurance available. LITTLE GREEN customs
> form.
>
> Global Priority Mail has one or two FREE boxes available, surprisingly
> in a decent size. Do NOT use domestic Priority Mail boxes when
> shipping Global! This will make the postal workers very unhappy.
>
> There's a special flat rate available, when using FREE small envelopes
> and large envelopes that they give you. This flat rate is often
> cheaper than using boxes. Large envelopes are around 1 standard
> letter page (8.5"x11"), and small envelopes are half that. The flat
> rate varies by country (so it isn't really flat), and the rate for
> large is just over the rate for small.
>
> A caution is that these envelopes have *no padding* in them at all!
> If you're mailing anything that doesn't lie completely flat, pad it
> yourself, and allow extra space for this. These envelopes don't
> stretch very much, and they fill up surprisingly quick!

I love Global Priority, I think it is one of the best things the
postal service has come up with. You can fit a lot into one of the
flat-rate envelopes, I have sent those things packed with padding
and parts so that they look like pillows! Up to four pounds, the
flat rate for the small envelope is $4 to Canada and Mexico, $5
elswhere that is covered by this service, the large envelope is
$7 and $9 respectively...so it's pretty much a flat rate.

All that goes out the window when you start using the boxes, the
postage gets pretty pricey pretty fast.

Again, it is a breeze for us since we have an electronic postal
scale and metering machine, we just shoot out the postage tape,
and stick it on, and put it in the outgoing mail tub, where our
letter carrier takes it away. The deal with Global Priority that
I thought was clever is that the package is handled like Domestic
Priority mail (goes in the same sorting path and into the same
bags) in this country, then is handled as regular mail when it gets to
the destination country. This avoided all the international
negotiations that would have been necessary for a completely Express
international postal shipping arrangement. Takes about 5 days to
reach the destination, on average.

And you can order all the supplies online! I rarely go to the
post office anymore. --Bob

=======================================================================
Bob Ellingson bo...@halted.com
Halted Specialties Co., Inc. http://www.halted.com
3500 Ryder St. (408) 732-1573
Santa Clara, Calif. 95051 USA (408) 732-6428 (FAX)

Long Duk Dong

unread,
Jul 14, 2004, 11:59:54 PM7/14/04
to
Thanks Josh, that's great info. Has anyone ever done this for shipping
pins? Kind of a 'pin shipping for dummies'?

Duk


"JoSH Lehan" <kre...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:242876bc.04071...@posting.google.com...

JoSH Lehan

unread,
Jul 17, 2004, 1:40:20 AM7/17/04
to
"Bob E." <bob...@halted.com> wrote in message news:<40F5F31A...@halted.com>...

> Depends. If you are a "known" shipper to your letter-carrier, you
> can usually have them take it. Our office has no problems with a few
> packages for them to take, as long as customs forms etc. are all
> present. Note that your letter carrier is NOT required to take
> your packages, they do it as a courtesy but if you have more than they
> have room for in their truck, you might have to take it to the P.O.

Nice. At any rate, you must present it to a person, I believe - you
can't just drop it in a box or leave it on the counter.

> Under 4 pounds, little green form. Over 4 pounds, big white form.

Also big white form if it's insured or oversized....

> I love Global Priority, I think it is one of the best things the
> postal service has come up with. You can fit a lot into one of the
> flat-rate envelopes, I have sent those things packed with padding
> and parts so that they look like pillows! Up to four pounds, the
> flat rate for the small envelope is $4 to Canada and Mexico, $5
> elswhere that is covered by this service, the large envelope is
> $7 and $9 respectively...so it's pretty much a flat rate.

Nice, and you can pillow them out pretty far too, if you reinforce the
weak spots of the envelope (edges/corners) with tape. I learned that
it's also easier to get the envelopes to close if you crease them
BEFORE stuffing them full of parts.

> letter carrier takes it away. The deal with Global Priority that
> I thought was clever is that the package is handled like Domestic
> Priority mail (goes in the same sorting path and into the same
> bags) in this country, then is handled as regular mail when it gets to
> the destination country. This avoided all the international
> negotiations that would have been necessary for a completely Express
> international postal shipping arrangement. Takes about 5 days to
> reach the destination, on average.

That is cool, I didn't know that!

Josh

JoSH Lehan

unread,
Jul 18, 2004, 4:21:49 AM7/18/04
to
kre...@gmail.com (JoSH Lehan) wrote in message news:<242876bc.04071...@posting.google.com>...
> Parcel-Post Air:

Doh! One quirk I forgot to add about Parcel-Post Air is that the
package MUST weigh at least one pound! If it is less than one pound,
you have to use another shipping choice.

So, if you need to get insurance on a package less than one pound,
your ONLY choice is to use Global Express (since Letter-Post Air and
Global Priority both do not allow insurance).

Any other unusual quirks that might be useful for people to know?

Josh

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages