Printing USPS Postage Stamps

© Brooke Clarke May 2007 - 2012



Background
New Developments
    First Class Labels with Postage
    International First Class Label with Postage & Customs Form
What can be Printed
Mailing Systems
Advantages of Printing your Own Postage
USPS Rules
Vendors
    Pitney Bowes
    Stamps.com
    Dymo
    Endicia
    USPS Click-N-Ship
       DVD CD-ROM Mailers
       13 oz Rule
       Flat Rate Boxes - Table
    Service Center with Scales & postage printer
Fedex Smart Post (Really Dumb Post)
Pricing
    Printer
    Ink
    Blank Stamps
    Monthly Fee
    Comparison - Table
Conclusion
Hints & Tips
Stamps For Sale

Background

Piror to  14 May 2007 I could ship my 5BA battery adapter in a small jiffy envelope and the USPS called it a thick letter and it went for regular first class postage of 39 + 23 cents or 62 cents.  They even had a 62 cent stamp.

Now they call the same thing a package and the postage is $ 1.30.  Do they have a $ 1.30 stamp  . . . No.  Do they have two stamps that total $ 1.30 . . .  No.  So you need to use three different stamps to get $ 1.30 in postage.  So now I'm looking for a low cost way to get more convient postage for a small home business.

I think the post office is the only branch of government where you need to stand in line.  The Motor Vehicle department long ago did away with it., and the internet may do away with it for the post office.

New Developments

First Class Labels with Postage

Starting in June 2011 PayPal has a feature that allows printing a label, in a manner very similar to the USPS printing of labels, except it can be for first class postage whereas the USPS does not allow that.  The PayPal version also fills out all the information so you don't need to type it in manually.  So I can ship domestic first class packages (>3/4" thick) without using stamps.  This eliminates the hassle of finding the correct stamps and of keeping up on the rate changes.
USPS First-Class Package Label  5" x 7" mailer

USPS First Class Postage Domestic Package Label

International First Class Label with Postage & Customs Form

Starting 22 June 2012 it's also possible to print a combined customs form and label with postage for international shipments using eBay.  This saves standing in line at the post office.
There's a bug in that you can NOT print the international label using a Post Script printer driver, but can do it using the PCL printer driver.  The problem is not related to the brand of browser.
There's also a minor bug you can see in the photo below where the item description starts a few spaces to the right of where it should and so overlaps the Qty number in the next column.
This new label printing system is also being used for domestic labels and now when multiple items are ordered it gets the total weight correct, unlike the prior PayPal version that didn't seem to pay attention to the quantity of parts ordered. The normal shipping time with the green customs form is just over a week.
Note:  This only works with eBay shipping, NOT with PayPal shipping. July 2012.
USPS First Class International Package  5" x 7" mailer

USPS First Class Mail International Package Label

It's still not possible to print the label needed to ship a CD-ROM as of 22 June 2012 as far as I know.

What can be Printed

You can print a label that includes postage.  These need to be printed just before use and can only be used for postage for the intended parcel.  A newer development where you print your own stamps that can be used anywhere a stamp would be used.  These are called NetStamps, InstaPostage, etc.  They can be printed on almost any printer usually from special preprinted sheets of peel off blank stamps.  You must get these from a USPS approved vendor since they contain special inks and fluorescent marks.  You can print either a small plain stamp or a double wide stamp that contains a photo (which needs prior approval).

Mailing Systems

Mailing systems typically consist of a scale linked to either a stand alone printer or a computer with attached printer.  The idea is that they have the rate schedule for the USPS and some also for UPS, Fedex, DHL, etc. so you can ship whatever it is and print the labels and postage.  Some of the low cost systems mentioned here include a small scale.

Advantages of Printing your Own Postage

The USPS has some perks.

USPS Rules

There are USPS rules (604c, 024)  about how Postage Meters and PC Postage Systems will operate.  The DMM index lists a bunch of these.  For example Dymo is not an authorized provider so they use Endicia who is a licensed provider as the supplier of the special blank labels.
Only three companies are listed for PC Postage in 604c:  Pitney Bowes Inc.,  Endicia.com (PSI Systems)  and  Stamps.com.

Vendors

Pitney Bowes

Pitney has been in the postage meter business it seems forever.  They answered the support phone number with no waiting.  This on 17 May just after the USPS rate changes!  A #1 for support.
753207 Mail-Marking Machine, A. H. Pitney, Feb 23, 1904, 101/91 ; 101/236; 101/352.08; 101/367; 101/77; 235/101 - a machine not much bigger than a typewriter that can be used at a table or desk to print postage on envelops on the premises of a business.  The start of the Pitney Bowes business.

StampExpressions

This is a thermal roll printer used with your computer that can print either a plain stamp or a double wide stamp that has a pre approved photo.  They say it's a 24 hour email process to get a photo approved. 
This PB printer can be used when connected to a computer or can be setup from the computer then used in stand alone mode.  In stand alone mode there are 3 buttons that can be pre loaded with the value of the stamps (which much be prepaid and downloaded) and 2 buttons to select a photo image (200x225 pixel jpg).
About 200 plain stamps (7.5¢) or 100 photo stamps (15 ¢) per $15 roll.

PersonalPost

This is a stand alone ink type printer that can print on up to 1/4" think envelopes or Avery type labels.  It comes with a 5 pound scale that's linked to the printer.  No computer needed.  But an analog telephone line is needed to load postage into the printer. 

Stamps.com

An internet based company offering shipping lable and stamp printing using your computer and printer.  They claim lower costs than the conventional PB postage meters and cost savings in time spent at the post office in lines.
Blank stamps are $30/500 roll (6 ¢) or $4/125 sht ( 3.2 ¢).

19 May 2007 - Ordered some blank stamps so I can print $1.30 stamps.
25 Jun 2007 - ordered the 5 pound scale from Stamps.com.  You need to wait  30 days prior toplacing this order, that way you need to pay the first month's fee.
See a photo of the 5 pound scale on my Measuring Length and weight web page.

22 Aug 2007 - 14 oz package returned with 3 stickers,  conflicting reasons why.  Have question at USPS awating answer.  Package was mailed in my home box using Stamps.com stamp (not label) and addressed to an APO box.
USPS Returned 14 oz package
1) The left label was scotch tapped over the others and says "Customs Form is Missing".  Does this mean a Customs form is needed for APO boxes?

2) the green peelable sticker says you must personally present packages overe 13 oz at a post office.

3) the Surface Transportation Only sticker seems to say that first class is no longer air mail?????

23 Aug 2007 - The answer from the San Francisco USPS office is that:

1  Missing Customs Form) This is the problem.  All APO/FPO box numbers are considered international and need the customs from.
2 Green Sticker)  "PC postage" is exempt from the 13 ounce rule relating to posting somewhere else besides a post office, like in my mail box or a drop box.  So the Stamps.com  stamp (which is PC Postage) is OK.  This sticker is in error.
3 Surface Not Air) This sticker is just reminding postal workers that APO or FPO mail is not first class and to send it by slow freighter (not very patriotic).

Scheduled Shipping Delays

17 July 2007 - Scale still not here.  On 12 July I phoned in to ask about it and the person said they would enter the items I was eligible for: the scale and a $10 credit.  But from southern to northern California it only takes a couple of days.  It's interesting that they used Fedex ground to deliver the scale and not the post office.   Also interesting that Fedex has been sitting on the box in the San Pablo center for almost a full day.  I've seen this before where it looks like a package could be delivered a few days earlier and they sit on the package and deliver it at the end of the possible span time.  Don't know if it's a way for Fedex to balance their work load, or if it's a service to delay the package. 

The coupons are not immediately redeemable, but only one per month.  This way you must pay the monthly fee (charged to you credit card) so it's more like a discount than a gift.  I also have the feeling they they "loose" your post card requesting the gifts and thus get more monthly payments.  When you call their phone number one of the menu choices is to cancel the service.

19 July 2007 - It's now very clear that there is a delay in shipping system.
I called the Smart Post phone and got an answering machine.  Who knows if or when they'll call back.
July 19, 2007 10:11 AM Sortation Center Departure SAN PABLO, CA
July 14, 2007 12:21 PM Sortation Center Arrival SAN PABLO, CA
The scale was shipped on July 13 and arrived a day later at the Fedex San Pablo center.  It sat there for 5 days, and today (Thursday) was shipped out.
It's scheduled to be here 23 July (Monday).  A USPS package will get to or from me to southern California in a day or two. 

The scale was shipped by Fedex Smart Post.  This is a bulk mail service.  Their main claim is faster delivery for lower rates.  But in order to offer the shipper a lower price than USPS, Smart Post sorts the packages and sends them to a "sortation center" where they sit as long as it takes to accumulate a full truck load going to the same USPS Bulk Mail Center.  I've seen a number of complaints from people who have had problems with late delivery or lost parcels where the USPS and Smart Post point to the other guy.

It's interesting the email notification says the package was shipped via USPS, but that's only half true.

U.S. Patent Nos.:
5510992  System and method for automatically printing postage on mail, Kara; Salim G., Post N Mail, April 23, 1996, 705/408 ; 235/380; 235/381; 380/51 -uses a touch memory utility ("TMU") button to transfer postage from post office to computer - n.a. for the stamps.com system

5682318  System and method for storing postage in a computer system, Kara; Salim G., E-Stamp Corporation, 705/402 ; 235/380; 235/381; 235/382 - uses general purpose computer

5717597  System and method for printing personalized postage indicia on greeting cards, Kara; Salim G., E-Stamp Corporation, 705/408 ; 700/231; 700/232; 700/233; 700/235; 705/410

5801944  System and method for printing postage indicia directly on documents, Kara; Salim G., E-Stamp Corporation, 705/401 ; 700/231; 700/232; 700/233; 700/235; 705/408; 705/411

5812991  System and method for retrieving postage credit contained within a portable memory over a computer network, Kara; Salim G., E-Stamp Corporation, 705/410 ; 235/375; 340/5.92

6208980  System and method for printing multiple postage indicia, Kara; Salim G., E-Stamp Corporation, 705/408 ; 101/71; 283/71; 380/51; 380/55; 700/235; 705/410

6249777 System and method for remote postage metering, Kara; Salim G., E-Stamp Corporation, June 19, 2001, 705/404 ; 705/401; 705/60; 705/62

Dymo

Dymo has been making label machines for many years.  The narrow roll type have been used for printing address and return labels for some time.  A modern extension if to now print postage stamps.

DymoStamps

This system is based on the existing Dymo LabelWriter 400 Turbo which is a thermal printer so no ink, toner or cartridges needed, but it uses a thermal paper or plastic for labels and for stamps uses a very special USPS approved blank stamp paper.  No monthly fees. $ 16/200 roll (8 ¢)

Endicia

They have a number of  postage plans based on your computer and printer using their blank stamp sheets or rolls.
$16/200 roll (8 ¢) or $4/125 sht ( 3.2 ¢) 17 May 2007 sheets out of stock.

PictureItPostage

20 photo stamps per 8.5" x 5.5" sheet (I'm guessing 1.5" x 2.25" for each photo stamp).
$ 17.95 for one sheet including 41 cents for mailing a first class envelope ($9.75 for the blank stamps or 49 cents for each blank stamp).  Other prices for use on post cards or other postage amounts.  Because of the indluded postage not suitable as a general purpose stamp printer.

Winows Standard Plan

Print postage for all package and first class mailing services.  InstaPostage is their stamp printing that's part of the standard plan.  These stamps can be prined on very special sheets in your printer or from very special rolls in a Dymo label printer.

Note that Endicia is the company that sells the labels needed for the DymoStamps system.  You do NOT need to join the Endicia plan to buy the labels for the Dymo turbo 400 printer.  $ 16/200 roll (8 ¢)

USPS Click-N-Ship

The USPS offers a free service that allows you to print a label with postage.  You use your charge card to pay for the postage. 
Advantages
  • No monthly fee
  • No special paper or ink needed.  Uses your computer printer on a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper.
  • The 13 ounce limit for stamps does not apply.  For example you can ship a 10 pound box from your home or business.
  • The USPS will come and collect your package (no need to drive to the post office and stand in line)
Disadvantages
  • The software has bugs
  • Can not use for first class mail, only Priority or Express mail
  • Can not use to print stamps, only a label with postage
  • Uses the top half of an 8½ x 11 sheet for the label and the bottom half for your receipt
  • Takes some time on the computer.  Each of the below items is a new web page.
    • sign -in
    • To Address
    • Priority, Flat Rate, Express, etc
    • Shopping Cart
    • Billing
    • Pay & Print
    • Print Verification
    • Windows Printer choice and setup
    • Printable receipt
      Took about 8 minutes.  Would be faster if multiple items were done toghther.
To access Click-N-Ship
Depending on how  you have the security options set in Windows XP you may need to  add the following trusted sites into IE.
If you get a bunch of Java errors you need to do this.
Tools\Internet Options\Security\Trusted Sites\Sites - enter and add:
https://ecap-ws-prod.usps.com
https://ecap21.usps.com
https://sss-web.usps.com

You can access the Click-N-Ship page from the main USPS page by clicking on "Print a Label" or if you have computed the postage in the table with the price for the different services there is a link to the right of the price that says "Print a Label" which means print a label with postage.

If  you put a value in the box that means you want insurance in that amount.  So if you don't want insurance don't put a value in the box.

Near the end of the process there's a check box for Schedule a pickup and the USPS will come and collect your parcel.


At the USPS home page along the top edge there are links for: Find a Zip Code, Calculate Postage, Print a Shipping Label, Schedule a Pickup, Locate a Post Office, Track & Confirm.  So it's clear from these links that the USPS does not offer postage printing.  But that's not the case.  The link to "Print a Shipping Label" does not send you to a web page about the Shipping Assistant PC download  application for printing labels without postage, but instead takes you to the Clik-N-Ship web page about printing postage and a label.  If you have URL display turned on in your browser you can see the link for Print a Shipping Label is: http://www.usps.com/shipping/label.htm?from=home&page=printpostage  so internally this is called PRINT POSTAGE, yet that's not what they tell you.  This is sloppy.  The USPS is like many businesses not clear about what they are doing.  If they were a large publicly traded company with stock I'd be tempted to sell them short.

The USPS has their own service, good for both domestic and international, Priority and Express mail, but neither First Class postage, nor stamps.
When you use the USPS rate calculator on the web page showing the rates for the different options, those options for Priority and Express mail have a link on the right saying "Print Postage" that leads to the Click-N-Ship page (same as link in the title of this paragraph).  Here you can go to a page to register.

I've tried three times to register today and on all three occasions have met with java errors.  My one phone call , after being forwarded to web tech support, was someone how told me what happened could not happen, i.e. that I used my email address as my user name.  So after the call retraced my steps and got the same error, which I emailed to the USPS.  This after noon I really wanted to sign up for this service so picked a user name that's all letters.  I don't know if it's an identical error message, but it's a bunch of java errors.

So for now I can't say much about this service except it seems to have fatal bugs.
  Yet, I've yet to find anything resembling technical support for Click-N-Ship.

The reason for the Java errors may be because you need to add the following trusted sites into IE.
Tools\Internet Options\Security\Trusted Sites\Sites - enter and add:
https://ecap-ws-prod.usps.com
https://ecap21.usps.com
https://sss-web.usps.com


After printing a Click-N-Ship label some comments.
1) It takes a full 8.5x11" sheet of paper for 1 label.  A huge waste of paper! 
Note that the Stamps.com stamp sheets have 25 stamps on each sheet and the printing application is setup with a page preview so you can print just the number of stamps you want.  This means running the sheet through the printer up to 25 times and is not a problem.  So there's no reason for the Click-N-Ship system to work the way it does.  Avery has a large number of mailing labels, many of which would easily work for this application and provide many more lables per sheet.

2) If you goto the USPS web page for "The Postal Store" and search on Click_N-Ship there is only one item:
Click-N-Ship Self-Adhesive Labels - 25 June 2007 - they don't have any
Item # 841578
Click-N-Ship Self-Adhesive Labels

Price: $9.00


Availability
Back Order
Usually ships in 2 weeks.
Note you get 25 sheets, i.e. 25 lables for $ 9.00 which is 36 cents per label.

Label Universe will sell you 25 sheets of their "LUPOSTSLW10" stick on lables for $ 6.90 (just under 28 cents/label).  But if  you use Click-N-Ship it always takes a full 8.5x11" sheet for each label.

23 May 2007 - The reply from USPS was that IE is not supported and to use Netscape or Firefox.  I tried Netscape 8.1 and was able to register and get to the page where it has your return address info and you can fill out the To address.  Also there's a Batch Shipping mode if you are going to ship the same parcel to a number of different recipients.
Strike # 1.

24 May 2007 - letters sent to Thompson, Fienstein, Boxer and Thompson since Congress oversees the postal service.

25 May 2007 - have a package that would be a good test of the Click-N-Ship.  Tried to use IE6 but got error message.  Tried Netscape 8.1 and also got the same:
"We encountered the following error while processing your label(s):
Error- We are sorry but an unexpected error has occurred during the checkout process. Please try again later." error message.
Strike # 2.
3 June 2007 - It's been 9 days since I sent the email message about not being able to print and still no response.
5 June 2007 - got a call from Mr. Moore who runs the local post office responding to the letter to Thompson.
6 June 2007 no word from USPS as to why Click-N-Ship does not work.

about 18 June 2007 - was able to print a Click-N-Ship label on plain 8.5x11" paper.  Half of the page is the actual lable, so this can only be used on good sized packages, not on smaller items.  The other half of the page is the receipt.  Seems like a huge waste of paper.

about  20 June 2007 - Around 11 am woman from the USPS called about my Java script errors and said something about my computer's Java configuration and was willing to help right then.  But I was very busy and asked her to call back after 2 pm.  She never called back.  It's now 25 June 2007 and I haven't heard anything.

28 June 2007 - The USPS page that defines first class letters as being a minimum of 3.5x5" and a max of 6.125x11.5". The thickness is 0.007 min to 1/4" max.  Therefor  my CD-ROM mailer at 5.5 x 5.5 x 0.112" meets these rules.   Ah, here are the "other" rules:
What they are trying to get at is you need to pay more (17¢) if the letter does not work in their current sorting machines.  But the rules as stated are not very well thought out. 

For example the first and last rules are really the same thing and the first one should just be eliminated or made into an example for the last one.  This is related to the address being parallel to the long dimension or not.  In my opinion they need to fix the machine so it works with the address either way.  I can understand the technology 10 or 20 years ago requiring the address be in a small rectangle in a know orientation, but those days are long gone.

The uneven surface causes the current machines problems.  Again in my opinion they need to improve the machines.

The "too rigid" rule has no meaning.  There's no way to determine if an item meets the rule or does not meet it.  Either they eliminate the rule or replace it with something that can be used.  The airlines came up with a rule for the size of carry on luggage that had wording something like if it can be compressed to fit . . , but the test was the box that you needed to get you bag to go through.  So if they can't come up with a rule that has meaning then they need to describe a testing machine that can be used.

So the problem with my CD-ROM mailer is that it's square.  I can fix that by getting a rectangular envelope.  But it's impossible to comply with the "too rigid" rule because it's undefined.  I.e. it's whatever they say it is.

28 June 2007 - Senator Mike Thompson's office called to follow up on the letter that I sent him and to confirm that the USPS had sent me a letter.
I explained the that letter and call from the local guy did not at all satisfy me.

The more I look at the USPS the worse they get.  I don't claim to be a sooth-sayer or fortune teller.  But I can look at the current state of affairs and extrapolate into the near future.  It's clear to me that a home computer can print either an envelope or any standard Avery mailing label with not only the from and to addresses but also with a postage paid symbol.  This does not require any special inks or the expense of safeguarding stamps. 

19 June 2007 - Senator  Dianne Feinstein sent an email giving me the postal address for the post master.  I'm working on a letter to him now.
Have not heard anything from Senator Barbara Boxer's office.
The Honorable John E. Potter
Postmaster General
U.S. Postal Service
475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, D.C.
there was no email address included.

11 July 2007 - when trying to Click-N-Ship a priority label w/postage encountered "Invalid Address" error when using an address that if written by hand would have no problems.  No clue as the the problem or in which box it was located.  I guessed that the building number could not be on the same line as the street name and moved it to line 2 and that fixed the problem.  The largest face of this parcel is 5.5 x 4.5" so the 8.5x5.5 label will need to be wrapped around the box, keeping the bar code flat.

30 July 2007 - A man from the San Francisco USPS office called to confirm that my concerns have been satisified.  NOT.
He said he would look into:
The reason for the Java errors may be because you need to add the following trusted sites into IE.
Tools\Internet Options\Security\Trusted Sites\Sites - enter and add:
https://ecap-ws-prod.usps.com
https://ecap21.usps.com
https://sss-web.usps.com
The lady who phoned could not give me anything concrete about what "
It is too rigid – does not bend easily" means in regards to a CD and said she would email me some information.
Also mentioned that there's a new rule about parcels over 13 ounces.

29 Dec 2007 - tried to use Click-N-Ship and again got an error message.  A few weeks ago I called the USPS and complained about this problem and they person that answered was supposed to call Hawaii USPS to ask about the address and call me back.   Haven't heard anything.  The error message looks like:


Edit Label Information
Please fill in the following information:   (* Required Fields)



We're sorry! We were unable to process your request. Please correct the error(s) indicated below:

You have entered a non-deliverable Delivery Address. Please verify address, including apartment, suite, etc. Additional assistance is available at Find ZIP Codes.


All the  * fields were filled in based on the address provided by my customer and I have no doubt that the package will be delivered, but it's going to cost a drive to the post office and standing in line.  They claim a non-deliverable Delivery Address, yet the package gets delivered, so the Click-N-Ship software has serious problems.

4 Feb 2008 - After one of the above We're sorry! error messages I phoned USPS and found the problem for this one.  It was how the address is divided between the lines.
For example the number and street name are on a line and after that the suite or box number, THIS IS NOT ALLOWED.  The suite or mail station, etc. number needs to be on the next line down.

5 Feb 2008 - Patricia called in response to my letter to the Postmaster General and my congress man and women.  She says there is a 90 and 40 cent stamps that add to $ 1.30.  Also gave me the name and phone number of a Mail Design specialist who was very knowledgable about DVD mailers.  I need to do some homwork on that.  More to come.


7 Feb 2--7 - received an email pointing out the Click-N-Ship does NOT conform the from address.  I.e. if you make an error inputting  your own address and the package needs to come back to you, it may never happen.  It would be so simple to use the same programming code to check both addresses.  But the down side is that doubles the chance of the program saying your address is no good.

Here's a number you will not find on the USPS web page:

Click-N-Ship Phone Support
800-344-7779
Internet Customer Care
Click-N-Ship = 2
[part of on hold message: icustomercare@USPS.com  <- not  .gov
Technical support is available seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. EST at the number below:

1-800-344-7779
I gave up waiting after 15 minutes on hold. 
In the outgoing message they give an email address for support, but with a .com address, not a .gov.  Is that another problem or do they mean it? 
2 days later I got a response to my email with the .com to address with the hours for phone support shown above.

Also it sounds like she is saying "we are experiencing an normal call volume . . . . " or maybe that's just my imagination.

DVD CD-ROM Mailers

The existing square single layer cardboard (not corrugated) mailers are not machinable for two reasons.  One they are square and that's not allowed since the addresses need to be aligned parallel to the long axis (a square has no long axis).  That could be fixed simply by gluing on an extension.  But the real problem is the flexibility of the mailing piece. 

The mail piece conveyor makes turns using an eleven inch diameter drum and the belt tension is forty pounds.  If the mail piece sticks up instead of following the drum it can jam the machine, break the mail piece or cause other problems.

It's not that the CD-ROM or DVD is too stiff (although there may be some that are) it's that the cardboard mailer is very stiff.

Netflix is THE company doing mail based DVD rental.  The USPS does seperate sorting for Netflix returns and the return time is very fast.  For example if I put the mailer in the USPS drop box before noon, Neflix receives the DVD about 6 am the next morning.

Patents

6612484 Duplex Envelope, (NCR), Sep 2 2003, 229/305 - aimed at billing and payment
6951279 System and Appartatus for Protecting Digital Media, (Gamefly), Oct 4 2005 - allows user to return DVD/CD in same package, but may not be machinable, 206/313, 229/305, 229/306, 229/313
7469816 Digital media mailer, (Pitney Bowes), Dec 30 2008, 229/303 ; 229/304; 229/305; 229/71

D536375 Disc Mailer, (USPS), Feb 6 2007, D19/3 - might be a single use machinable DVD/CD mailer.

USPS 13 Ounce Rule

New 13-Ounce Mail Rule to Take Effect July 30 - you can not use stamps for postage over 13 ounces unless the parcel is taken to a post office counter.  This used to be 16 ounces which was the limit for low cost postal scales.

First Class
              International One Pound Box

28 Nov 2007 - This is a one pound box headed for Australia.  It's in my household mail box with the red flag up.  The postman will pickup and deliver it.  Note this requires Stamps.com or an extra $9 to use the USPS Priority Mail print a label with postage.








25 Nov 2007 - Ebay gets it wrong.  Both the on line eBay listing software and the run on your computer Turbo Lister software prohibit using first class mail for packages over 13 ounces.  THIS IS NOT WHAT THE NEW RULE SAYS!  It just says you can't use stamps for packages over 13  oz.  This may explain the high shipping fees I've noticed recently on eBay.  The sellers are being forced to use higher priced methods.

13 Aug 2007 - Tried to print a label w/postage and got error message saying something was wrong with address.  Double checked ZIP using USPS lookup and it was OK.  Tried leaving the ZIP box empty since the program should standardize the address.  Emailed to my customer to confirm the ship to address and it came back exactly like what I had entered.  There's no clue given as to what's wrong.

Flat Rate Boxes

The USPS offers a couple of Flat Rate Boxes.  As the words say you pay a flat rate of $8.95 for either box no matter what it weighs.

Table of Boxes (Feb 2009)


Model
Name
L x W x H"
$
U.S.
Max Wt
$
Canada
Mexico
Max Wt
$
Other
Countries
Max Wt
Small Flat Rate Box

Small Flat Rate Box
5-3/8” x 8-5/8” x 1-5/8” $4.95
70 #
$10.95
4 #
$12.95
4 #
Priority Mail Large Flat
                  Rate Box

Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box 12” x 12” x 5-1/2” $13.95
999 #
$32.95
20 #
$53.95
20 #
Priority Mail Large Flat
                  Rate Box
Priority Mail APO/FPO Flat Rate Box

(same as
Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box)

Requires customs form
12” x 12” x 5-1/2” $11.95
999 #
O-FRB-1
O-FRB-1
Priority Mail Box Flat Rate Box 11" X 8.5" X 5.5" $10.35
20 #
$25.95
20 #
$41.95
20 #
FRB-2 O-FRB-2
Priority Mail Box Flat Rate Box 11-7/8" x 3-3/8" x 13-5/8" $10.35
20 #
$25.95
20 #
$41.95
20 #
USPS Shoe Box
Shoe Box
7-1/2" x 5-1/8" x 14-3/8"
$ depends on destination and weight
Express Mail Box

Express Mail Box 5 1/4" x 12 3/8" x 3" $ depends on destination and weight

You can get the boxes free at the post office or order them on line and they will be delivered for free.  These can be used in a number of ways.  If it's for personnel use and you're not filling it with lead your local postman may (at his option) collect the box with your other outgoing mail. 

If you are a business and have a bunch of these filled with metal the local postman probably will not collect them.   You can call the local post office and schedule a pickup at which time you will need to pay $13.95 for the trip.  BUT, if you use Click-N-Ship to print the label with postage then the program has a provision to schedule a free pickup.

Another postal employee told me that they don't charge for pickups.

WANTED

The first priority is to fix Click-N Ship.  When it's fixed then:
The USPS should allow Click-N-Ship on all service levels, not just Priority and Express.  Note that Click-N-Ship is only for printing labels with both the return and destination addresses, NOT stamps which require a higher level of security.  They also need to get the label size much smaller than it is now.

Shipping Assistant

The USPS also has a PC download application for just label printing (NO POSTAGE) called Shipping Assistant.  The pdf manual is 198 pages and looks as if it was written by a high school dropout.  No Adobe navigation features other than links to USPS web pages and email addresses.  For more on Acrobat navigation see my web page on how to make a pdf document.  It has it's own phone support number.  I get the feeling that the USPS is just starting on this voyage and is learning as they go.

I was hoping that Shipping Assistant would offer more than Click-N-Ship since it requires not only that it be installed on a PC but also there's a registration process.  After all that work you would think that Shipping Assistant would allow you to print labels for any class of mail with the postage.  But NO  . .  . it has less capability than the on line Click-N-Ship application in terms of postage printing.

I think if you asked many people that work at the USPS they would say that there's a huge benefit to them of having machine readable labels on the items they process.  So if people use Shipping Assistant it helps the USPS.  But the latest postage rate increases coupled with the high gasoline prices means the average guy needs to not stand in a line at the post office.  Shipping Assistant needs to be changed to allow printing postage on any label.

USPS Service Center with Scales & postage printer

CAUTION - Unlike the USPS on line label printer, the eBay label printer and the PayPal label printer, this is just a stamp printer.  That's to say it only prints what amounts to a stamp and  you need to manually enter the from and to addresses.  (don't ask how I learned this).

This will NOT work for international mail, only domestic.

Fedex Smart Post (Really Dumb Post)


The real problem is that
the shippers are secretive about using Smart Post
 and pretend they are shipping via USPS or Fedex.

My first experience with Fedex Smart Post was the postage scale sent by Stamps.com.  See Scheduled Shipping Delays above.  The rate must be lower for fulfillment shippers but it comes at a very high price for the recipient in terms of shipping delay.

10 Oct 2007 - I ordered a couple of items from Harbor Freight on  2 Oct 2007 and in the confirmation email they said :
"your order will be sent via HFT Shipping".
I usually receive packages from Southern California in two days independent of how they are shipped. BUT NOT THIS TIME.
I went to the Harbor Freight web page for order status to see what happened to my order. After entering my order number and zip code the next page shows:
Ship Date: 10/03/07
Ship Method: Parcel Post
But that's only half a lie. Now clicking on the link for Carton number brings up a Fedex (not USPS Parcel Post) hosted web page with a tracking number. The message on this page is:
Not found
No information for the following shipments has been received by our system yet. Please try again later or contact Customer Service.


Clicking on the Customer Service link takes you to the general Fedex customer service web page where there's a link for
Not sure which FedEx company to contact? Clicking on this link launches a new web page that mentions Express, Ground, Freight and Custom Critical, but NOT Dumb Post. Below is the tracking number obtained on separate cycles through the Harbor Freight web pages to be sure it's what Harbor Freight says it is.
9102128212385026047043
9102128212385026047043

11 Oct 2007 - calling Fedex they say it's not their tracking number. Get their tracking number and call back.

Harbor Freight - says shipped wed oct 3 2007 it will take "10 to 14 days".
  Escalating call to supervisor. . . . waiting on hold. 8:39 am 8:40 . 8:41

Wanda Boatwright Harbor Freight -
web states 10 to 14 days for standard delivery. Under 8 pounds goes Smart Post.
she will track my package on smart post. placed me on hold 8:52 8:53. .
10/13 scheduled delivery. from Fedex Smart Post. (that's 10 days instead of 2 if it gets here then)
The Fedex person was supposed to know it was Smart Post.
Harbor freight standard (Dumb Post) $ 7.99, but if expedited service (UPS ground lowest cost option) was requested it would have cost $12 or for $5 the delivery time would be shortened to 2 days for me.

There is a Smart Post Tracking web page but it can only be accessed by the shipper, not by the recipient of the package. This may be how Wanda was able to tell me the scheduled delivery date.

Fedex - Ruth Tarbutton - "Invalid check digit" - she says if the number was SmartPost their computer would say so. There's something wrong with the number. I copy and pasted the number above to confirm and it's exactly the same number. So the number that Harbor Freight is feeding the Fedex system is NOT their tracking number. It looks like Harbor Freight has a problem with posting the wrong tracking number. It's not clear what the normal Fedex tracking web page will do when given a SmartPost tracking number.

Harbor Freight -Sherry ask for -> Wanda Boatwright - 9:21 am Sherry took my name & number and said Wanda would call back. 9:22 . . . . . . . . . . never happened

Pricing

There are three costs involved, one is the up front cost to get started, then there is the monthly fee and finally the cost of supplies for each stamp.  So which vendor is the best for you depends on how many stamps you use in a year.  At high volumes the up front costs and monthly fees are not too important, but the cost per stamp becomes very important.  This is where you get into the traditional ink based postage meter type of operation.

The other factor is what benefit you get from the overall service package offered.  That's hard to evaluate without using.  Most of these plans have a month trial period so you can try them out.

Printer

Some systems require a special printer that you need to buy up front.  For others you just use your regular sheet printer.

Ink

Most of the PB postage meters use a very special USPS specified ink that may appear to be pricey.   The way to look at the ink is how many cents per stamp since it replaces the peel off forms you need to buy from the other vendors.  The special ink is going to be on any stamp not printed by the USPS either on a preprinted form or as the raw ink.  For high volume mailers it's much lower in cost to work with the ink and apply it to their mailing pieces.

7192474 IR absorbing photosensitive optically variable ink compositions and process, Pitney Bowes Inc. (Stamford, CT), March 20, 2007, 106/31.32 ; 106/31.28; 106/31.64 - There are over 7,000 patents relating to ink.

Blank Stamps

This might be special peel off sheets for use in your printer, special rolls for use in Dymo or other label type printers or can be plain Avery type lables if a specalized ink type stamp printer is used.  Note that the cost of these blank stamps can vary between 1  and 50 ¢ each.  You need to pay for the actual postage in addition.

Monthly Fee

Most plans also have a monthly fee.  These vary a lot for the same service depending on where and how you ask.  Plans with no monthly fee seem to charge more for the blank stamps.  These are open to negotiation.  The lowest price comes from talking on the phone to the key vendor, not from an office supply store or from the vendors web page.

Comparison

To compare the above services let's say that I'm going to mail 1,000 5BA Battery Adapters in the next year.  I'm going to do more that just that but it's a place to start.


PB StampExp
PB PersPost
Stamps.com
Dymo
Endicia Std Pln



Getting Started Guide


Scale
n.a.
5#
5# included
n.a.
25# optional
Printer
PB special thermal
PB special ink
your sheet or Dymo
129.95
your sheet or Dymo
Ink
n.a.
$40/600 stamps
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
Blank
Stamps
$15/200 roll (7.5¢)
100/roll w/photo
minimal $30/500  roll (3.2¢)
$4/125 sht (3.2¢)
$16/200 roll (8¢)

$16/200 roll (8¢)

Mo Fee
$8/mo no contract
$10/mo contract
$8/mo no contract
Zero
10/mo
printer
$99
$40 ink
$0
$130
$0
1000
blank stamps
$75
$5?
$32
$80
$80
annual fee
$96
120
$ 96
0
$120
First year
99 + 75 + 96 = $270*
40 + 5 + 120 = $165*
32 + 96 = $128*
130 + 80 = $210*
$200
next year
75 + 96 = $ 171*
67 + 5 + 120 = $192*
$128*
$80*
$200
First 2 years
$441
$357
$ 256
$290
$400
First 3 years
$612
$549
$384
$370
$600
* - Not including postage which will be $1,300 for the year.

Conclusion

Pitney Bowes most likely has the best quality, service and most experience in this business.  They are also the highest priced for low volume businesses. 

Endicia could not be reached on the phone (way too busy after the 14 May rate change) so the monthly fee is their list price.  The other monthly fees are what you can get with a little negotiation.  They may have value for someone who ships a lot of packages, but I'm not seeing it.

Dymo (uses Endicia labels) is the low price leader and if all you want is to print stamps a good choice.  They are at 8 cents per blank stamp and Stamps.com is at 3.2 cents per blank stamp so if you look at the annual cost as the number of stamps used goes up pretty soon Stamps.com is more economical.  In addition Stamps.com is providing a Mailing Service and Dymo is not.

Stamps.com seems to offer the best value for a small business like mine where the number of stamps used in a year is in the 1,000 to 2,000 area.

Hints & Tips

19 May 2007 - The starter package arrived this afternoon.  On my first attempt to print NetStamps something went wrong and I stopped the job, but 3 stamps were misprinted.  The problem is that the Stamps.com software does NOT bring up the normal Windows printer dialog box.  This is a mistake and they should fix it.  (25 Jun 2007 - It may be that they don't want you to print to a file.  Which would allow printing the same pattern again and so have taken control of that aspect.  But it would be easy to print to a file so I still think it needs to be fixed.)  My LaserJet printer is configured to always use the Duplex printing option and so prints the second page on the back of the first page.  This cuts paper usage almost in half as well as resulting in half the number of sheets you need to store.  BUT, when duplex is enabled it changes how the printer works for a single sheet, and in this case flips top and bottom on NetStamps and causes envelopes to not get printed at all!

They do have an on line form that gets printed but you need to address an envelope and mail back to them the defective stamps.  I'll report on how the refund goes.  Got an email on 22 Jun 2007 - took over a month.  Saying :
This amount was considered
un-reimbursable by the USPS but has been credited to your account
to thank you for being a valued Stamps.com customer.
With no explanation.
When ordering 4 packs of net stamps (500 blank stamps) the s/h added $ 4.35 which is about twice the postage.
Quit using Stamps.com because the monthly fee ($15) is too high for my level of shipping.

When I did have the Stamps.com service I was printing a few sheets of stamps, say 4 sheets at $1.30 each or $130 worth of  stamps.   But it's my understanding now that they have a limit on the dollar amount of postage you can purchase that's much lower.  So to do the same stamp pinting it takes a number of cycles through the program making the total cost (including the time it takes to accomplish) much higher.

Since the rates have increased again to $1.32 I can now order on line two stamps that have this total.  In the future instead of ordering three or more stamps it may be smarter and lower in overall cost to just order the next higher total.  That means paying the USPS a penny or two more, but that may be a lower price than spending a lot of time to save 1¢.

Stamps For Sale

I'm thinking of offering stamps for sale.  If you need a strange value stamp I could print and mail to you in a standard #10 envelope. 

Back to Brooke's Home, Products for Sale  page
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