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Where's the Outrage?
There's not any, because Priority Mail is still a great deal!

20 April 2003
PostalWatch: Priority Mail Sham
PostalWatch.org is accusing the USPS of executing a massive deceptive advertising campaign. Citing the Postal Service's own data, PostalWatch reports that First Class letters, at nearly one-tenth the cost of Priority Mail, often arrive sooner than Priority Mail letters.

The PostalWatch.org report is the latest in a series of reports from various organizations that have all come to the same general conclusion: The Postal Service is advertising a product that costs almost ten times as much as First Class mail and in many cases is actually slower than First Class mail. The reports accuse the Postal Service of misleading advertising. In actuality, the reports themselves are misleading in many ways.

PostalMag.com first touched on this story in an article about the Postal Service's somewhat controversial Mystery Shopper program. Shortly afterwards, the Postal Rate Commission and the USPS Inspector General's office were asking questions and issuing their own reports. The Wall Street Journal also reported on the subject. Despite these reports, the USPS has been able to brush these criticisms aside. There has been no popular public outrage. Priority Mail remains popular, and even preferred among many shippers. Why is this the case, despite evidence directly from the USPS that apparently supports these claims? Where's the outrage?

Actually, there's a good reason why there isn't any outrage. Priority Mail is a great bargain and postal customers realize this!

In Defense of Priority Mail

First, it is unfair to compare a 37 cent First Class letter at one ounce with a Priority Mail rate that is good for up to two pounds. Who sends a traditional size letter via Priority Mail? Most people are smart enough to know that a 37 cent stamp will suffice in this case.

Priority Mail is primarily used for shipping small to medium sized items - books, videos, clothes, multi-page documents, online auction items, etc., - not one ounce letters. Many of these items are in the half pound to two pound range. A 13 ounce letter at the First Class rate is $3.13 for example -- a lot closer to the Priority Mail rate of $3.85.

The Convenience Factor

How does one arrive at the $3.13 First Class rate for a 13 ounce letter, for example? First, the letter must be weighed, which requires a scale. Second, a rate chart/rate calculator is required. A post office clerk can provide both. However, who has the time anymore to drive to the post office and stand in line? The Priority Mail rate is a standard $3.85 for one pound or less. No hassle, no time wasted searching for weight and rates. Just slap $3.85 on the box and that's it.

Speaking of the box, the Postal Service provides free of charge all of the Priority Mail boxes anybody could ever want. (In fact, some postal customers on the Priority Mail box auto-ship program have been inundated with boxes - because they overestimated their requirements). Free boxes are also a great convenience in this day and age. The alternative is to go down to the local store and buy boxes, or search the closet for old shoe boxes.

In addition to the box being free, the box is also designed with bold colors and is emblazoned with "Priority Mail" on the cover. It's sure to be noticed by the recipient! The free boxes also come in many different dimensions for a variety of mailing needs. 

Such convenience factors have made Priority Mail the preferred mailing choice for many postal customers who regularly ship items throughout the country. It's not because the Postal Service has duped a large segment of the mailing population with deceptive advertising. It's because Priority Mail works! David Steiner, in an article at AuctionBytes.com, notes:

"Those of you who sell online regularly know the challenge of packaging items safely and trying to fit a wide array of oddly shaped auction items snugly into Priority Mail boxes. I frequently buy merchandise at Estate sales and flea markets that I'm excited about... until stop and think, "How the heck am I going to ship this"? Since Priority Mail seems to be the overwhelming method of choice when shipping most items because of the 2-3 day shipping (usually), fair rates and most importantly, free shipping supplies, I thought it might be time for a primer on Priority Mail packing."

Priority Mail also has another competitive advantage: In many cases it's cheaper to mail an item using Priority Mail than by using UPS or Federal Express. This is especially true with items weighing just a couple of pounds. See "Shipping Options: Priority Mail or UPS?" at AuctionBytes.com.

Priority Mail is used by millions of Americans, not because they've been duped by slick advertising, but because of a number of competitive advantages.
- Cost competitive: In its most popular mailing category - packages weighing just a few pounds - rates are comparable with First Class mail and rates are (on average) dollars cheaper than UPS and FedEx.
- Convenience: Free boxes and simple rates. Convenience, in some cases, is also a cost advantage: Companies can streamline their shipping departments with simple rates and free shipping supplies.
- Impact: Priority Mail is aptly named. Priority packages convey a sense of urgency, importance and priority to the recipient.
- Speed of Delivery: Two to three days is great! Most Priority Mail packages are delivered in that time period. Plus, the average customer realizes that "2-3 days" is a guideline, not a guarantee. Most customers are still happy with the service even if it takes "3-4" days for delivery. As for the claim about deceptive advertising, the USPS advertises "an average of 2 to 3 days."
- Priority Mail is delivered on Saturday!

Lesson to be learned from Priority Mail:
- First Class mail is faster than Priority Mail? Of course it is. We don't need a report to state the obvious. First Class mail is the Postal Service's flagship product. It's success should be a credit to the Postal Service, not a standard to be used to denigrate Priority Mail.
- The simplification of postage rates could increase mail volume and revenue for the Postal Service by making it more convenient for customers to mail items.
- Customers will pay for convenience. It should be noted that some private mailbox centers charge $5 or more to send a $3.85 USPS Priority Mail package. (The private mailbox centers pocket $1.15 just for accepting the package and affixing a $3.85 meter strip. When convenient, some customers don't seem to mind being charged $5.00 for Priority Mail!)

All in all, Priority Mail is a great deal. That's why millions of Americans continue to use it for their shipping needs.


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