Navigating the Convoluted USPS Shipping Options

Every business looks for ways to cut costs. Edging off a few dollars every month can make the difference between survival and closure, especially lately. This is just as true with e-commerce as it is at your favorite mom-and-pop store.

One of the easiest places to cut costs is in shipping. In response to a changing market, the United States Postal Service (USPS) now offers many different shipping options, several of which are tailored directly to e-commerce of varying sizes. But with so many choices, how do you tell which is best for a business the size of yours? Here’s a quick rundown of what each plan has to offer:

Media Mail

One of the most misunderstood forms of USPS shipping is Media mail. Many individuals and many experienced business owners, think that any form of printed or recorded matter can ship by this method. Unfortunately, that is incorrect. Media mail is restricted to books, music, and videos. Video games and non-educational computer media do not qualify. The only other items allowable are instructional materials of various types – manuals, films 16mm and smaller, test materials, and other similar items. Many people erringly send items by media mail, while others do it intentionally, knowing that their articles do not qualify. Because of this, the USPS has been cracking down on violations. If you have eligible items, media mail is quite likely the lowest shipping rate you can use, especially since most of the things that qualify are hefty. But if not, then using media mail is not worth the risk of your parcel being delayed, returned, or arriving with postage due. One final factor that should be considered is the arrival time. Media mail generally travels more slowly than any other form of mail.

There is no international rate for Media mail. Instead, they use what is called an “M-Bag” for printed material – starting at $51.70 for 11 pounds (lower weights are charged at the 11-pound rate), with a maximum weight of 66 pounds.

Flat-Rate Pricing

For simplicity, many businesses utilize the USPS flat-rate pricing options. To accommodate varying needs, the USPS has a variety of choices, including:

  • Small Flat-rate Envelope – 10”x6”
  • Flat-rate Envelope – 12-½”x9-½”
  • Padded Flat-rate Envelope – 12-½”x9-½”
  • Small Flat-rate Box – 8-5/8″ x 5-3/8″ x 1-5/8″
  • Top-loading Medium Flat-rate Box – 11″ x 8-½″ x 5-½”  
  • Side-loading Medium Flat-Rate Box – 13 5/8″ x 11 7/8″ x 3-3/8”
  • Large Flat-Rate Box – 12″ x 12″ x 5-½″
  • Large Flat-Rate Board Game Box – 23-11/16x 11-¾″ x 3″

This is a wide range of choices, with varying prices, designed to suit multiple needs. Each of these comes with $50 in insurance, tracking, and a weight limit of 70 lbs. They all qualify for international shipping, with weight limits of 4 pounds for envelopes and 20 pounds for boxes. While previously each could also go express mail for timely guaranteed delivery, the USPS has now created separate envelopes and boxes of the same sizes for this service.

In addition to these options, there are domestic flat-rate regional boxes, with the rate being determined by what region of the country a parcel is going. This option is only the lower cost choice if your package would otherwise be larger than an envelope or small flat-rate box. The boxes are the same shape and slightly smaller than the medium and large flat-rate boxes.

Finally, when shipping to military members, there is a flat rate APO/FPO box that is very similar in size but lower in cost than a large flat-rate box.

Commercial Plus Pricing (CPP)

Perhaps the most confusing system of all is the USPS commercial plus pricing. The first thing to note is that CPP, the huge shipping volume requirements, and the bulky contract and set-up no longer exist as of January 2019, except for shipping by cubic weight.

Initially, CPP was divided into two sections: First-Class Package Service Commercial and Priority Mail Commercial Plus. The former had a weight range of anything more than 1 ounce to 15.999 ounces and traveled by ground. The latter was basically regular priority mail with a discount for bulk mailing – both called for volume in the thousands of pieces annually.

What they replaced it with is simply Commercial Pricing. The USPS eliminated the volume requirements and made sure it is the most economical shipping method they have.

Instead of contracting with the USPS for thousands of items a year, agreements are formed between the business and a third party, such as ShipLeap. The third party takes care of implementing the system for the company and simplifying every aspect of shipping into a single, easy-to-use component.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of options for you to sort through as a business owner before you decide what works best for you. If it all looks overwhelming, allow Shipleap to explain how our services can take the weight of these decisions off your shoulders.

Leave a Reply