Sorting The Mail

Paying Attention:

Every Christmas I do a rather large mailing to my close friends. The objects I send are designed to fit in an envelope. They are designed and produced professionally at a not-inconsiderable expense. It’s important that they reach my pals on time because they serve as Christmas Cards of a very different type.
For almost a decade, worried that these once-a-year mailings would not arrive in time, I sent everything via USPS Priority Mail. The expense was about $5/envelope. In 2016, the USPS raised the rate for Priority Mail from $5 and change to $6 and change…not a small jump in cost. I justified the increased expense by saying that “if your friends aren’t worth $6.00, then they’re not your friends” but, while saying that, I was always hoping for a more efficient, less expensive way to generate the mailing.
I was not pleased at the increase in cost since it raised to a higher level the cost of sending out the mailing, so I decided to do something different: just send all of the items via first class mail. Everything I was sending would fit in a single envelope and could go first class. And so I did, going through the entire process of hand-addressing all the packages (over 50 ) and putting postage on each one. I took a single package to the post office to obtain the precise amount of postage due (it was $1.10/envelope) and then bought some new stamps to go with all the old Christmas stamps that I had accumulated; I then went home to assemble the mailing.
In an afternoon, I managed to get everything addressed and postage applied. The next day, I dropped the entire mailing off at the post office. I was very curious to see how long it would take for the far-less-expensive first class mail items to arrive vs. the expensive Priority Mail items, so I also sent a couple of items via Priority Mail, just to test the difference in delivery times.
Much to my great joy and surprise, the items mailed First Class arrived a day to three days ahead of the items sent priority mail. In other words–less was more in terms of delivery times where the USPS was concerned.
Since Priority Mail is billed as a 2-3 day service, the fact that some Priority Mail items weren’t delivered for 4 or 5 days was disappointing. On the other hand, an 84% reduction in shipping cost per item is a very good thing, especially during a time of the year when money is running out the door to fulfill everyone’s Christmas wishes.
Why would good ole First Class Mail best Priority Mail in terms of delivery time? A couple of thoughts (not yet verified by any conversations with the Post Office). One is the sheer amount of extra handling that a Priority Mail piece goes through when you ship it. One of the great things about Priority Mail is the ability to track a package or an envelope and to do this, the item must be scanned at each stop on the postal food chain. One Priority Mail envelope was checked into the system 11 different times before it was delivered. That’s got to slow things down.
Another thought is that perhaps the Priority Mail material was set aside because of the special care and feeding it required, while the rest of the First Class items just “got on the bus” and went to their ultimate destinations as quickly as possible. They were given no special treatment, but during the Christmas Holidays, when the Post Office is swamped, maybe special treatment just slows things down. Better to go with the flow than be set on the sidelines waiting for personal attention.
Priority Mail is still my shipping process of choice when you need to track something, need definitive proof that it was received, and are ambivalent about how much it weighs or will cost to ship. Just put your item in one of the Priority Mail shipping envelopes or boxes (if it fits, it ships, don’t worry about weight), pay on line for the postage and print out the Priority Mail shipping label right from your own computer, drop it off at the post office and or give it to your postman and you’re done. And you can get the updates on your phone, every single step of the way.
But—if your shipping project involves lots of items to many different people and it can all be mailed First Class–the less expensive, old-standby First Class Mail is still a heck of a good deal and surprisingly fast.
Good to know, if you want to be both on time and on budget.
Happy Holidays.
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