On January 2, 2011, new USPS Shipping Services prices went into effect for Domestic and International products such as Express Mail, Priority Mail, Parcel Select and Global Express Guaranteed, Express Mail and Priority Mail International, and International Priority Airmail and Surface Air Lift. 

While pricing for Mailing Services products, such as First-Class Mail and Standard Mail, are set per a price ceiling, Shipping Services products are based on a price floor where each product and contract must cover its costs and generate sufficient net contribution to cover a certain percentage of USPS overhead. The overall price change for Domestic Shipping Services products was 3.6%. For Priority Mail, Retail prices increased an average 3.9%, while Commercial Base and Plus prices increased an average 3.2% and 2%. 

In addition to price increases, there are some interesting new opportunities for shippers in 2011. 

Flat-Rate Envelopes — All domestic USPS-produced Priority Mail envelopes smaller than 12.5" x 9.5" are priced the same as regular Priority Mail Flat-Rate envelopes even if they don't bear "Flat Rate Envelope." Some envelopes are available at local post offices, while others must be ordered online at www.usps.com/shop. Flat-Rate envelopes include gift card (10" x 7"), window (5" x 10"), small envelope, legal-size (15" x 9 ½") and padded (12 ½" x 9 ½"). The Retail price is $4.95 and Commercial Base and Plus prices range from $4.70 to $4.95. There is also a legal-size, Flat-Rate envelope for Express Mail.

Benefits of Flat-Rate packaging: the price is fixed regardless of weight or zone; packaging is free; there is no charge for electronic Delivery Confirmation service for Priority Mail; envelopes are easily recognized by recipients; there is no charge for picking up packages with the Carrier Pickup service, or for a small fee, shippers can pick up packages on a specific date and time with Pickup on Demand service; and there are no delivery area, fuel surcharges or address error fees.

Commercial Plus Pricing — Another new opportunity is USPS-approved Information-Based Indicia (IBI) postage meters that print the IBI with the appropriate price marking and electronically transmit transactional data daily to the USPS. This now serves as a qualifying postage payment method for Express Mail and Priority Mail Commercial Plus pricing. Thresholds for Plus pricing are also reduced. Priority Mail Commercial Plus prices are available for shippers having a cumulative account volume exceeding 75,000 total pieces or 5,000 letter-size and flat-size pieces in the previous calendar year — except for Priority Mail Open and Distribute — and for Express Mail, volumes of 5,000 pieces in the previous four quarters. Shippers may also qualify with a customer commitment agreement.

Additional new opportunities for Priority Mail shippers are Regional Rate Boxes and Critical Mail. 

Priority Mail Regional Rate Boxes — These are available to Commercial Base and Plus shippers. Pricing is based on box size and zone. The maximum weight limit is 15 pounds for Regional Rate Box A and 20 pounds for Box B. Box A measures 0.21 cubic feet, the side loading box is 13 1/16" x 11 1/16" x 2 ½", and the top loading is 10 1/8" x 7 1/8" x 5." Box B measures 0.41 cubic feet, and the side loading box is 16 ¼" x 14 1/2" x 3", and the top loading option is 12 1/4" x 10 1/2" x 5 ½". 

Priority Mail Critical Mail -- Available for qualifying Priority Mail Commercial Plus mailers, Critical Mail includes tracking, free electronic Delivery Confirmation and travels with First-Class Mail. Unlike Express Mail service, delivery is not guaranteed. The USPS provides two envelope options. Postage for the letter-size option is $3.50 and the piece must weigh less than 3 oz. and be less than ¼" thick. Postage for the flats-size option is $4.25 and the piece must be less than 13 oz. and less than ¾" thick. 

Qualifications include volume thresholds, a customer commitment agreement, using USPS-provided automation-compatible letter-size or flat-size envelopes bearing the Intelligent Mail barcode, a qualifying postage payment with inscription, pre-approval of mailpieces and preparation requirements.

Hold for Pickup Service — This service was expanded from Express Mail to commercial Priority Mail, First-Class Mail commercial parcels and Parcel Select barcoded, non-presorted parcels. Packages are shipped directly to a Post Office and held for recipient pickup. While there are some requirements, such as a qualifying postage payment option and an Intelligent Mail package barcode, the service is especially beneficial for sending important documents and merchandise where safety of the package is critical.

The USPS is continuing to provide new, innovative, easy and affordable shipping options to organizations of all sizes in 2011. Additional details are available in the Domestic Mail Manual on Postal Explorer at http://pe.usps.gov/default.asp. 


Can't Qualify for Critical Mail?

While Critical Mail is a very innovative, new product from the Postal Service, the requirements may not be easily met by many shippers. Limitations may exist in the technology the shipper has to ship packages, or the Priority Mail Commercial Plus volume threshold. For these reasons, and perhaps even as a cost-saving alternative, shippers should also consider using First-Class Mail parcels with electronic Delivery Confirmation. While shippers can't use recognizable, free envelopes from the Postal Service, the delivery objective and information is comparable.

Consider the following comparisons. Critical Mail with electronic Delivery Confirmation service for a three-ounce letter-size envelope costs $3.50. However, sending a three-ounce First-Class Mail parcel with Electronic Delivery Confirmation service costs approximately $2.25 when one considers postage, fees and cost of a parcel container

Also, Critical Mail with electronic Delivery Confirmation service for a 13 oz. flat-size envelope costs $4.25. However, a First-Class Mail 13 oz. parcel with Electronic Delivery Confirmation service costs approximately $3.95.

Elizabeth Lombard, CMDSM, CMDSS, MDP, MDC, EMCM, is the National Postal-Carrier Manager, Pitney Bowes Inc.

Express Mail, Priority Mail, Parcel Select, Global Express Guaranteed, Priority Mail International, International Priority Airmail, Surface Air Lift, First-Class Mail, Standard Mail, Delivery Confirmation, Pickup on Demand, Critical Mail, Parcel Select, Intelligent Mail, Domestic Mail Manual, and Postal Explorer are trademarks of the United States Postal Service.