To business shippers and consumers alike, the U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail services keep getting better with age. Priority Mail, a popular two- to three- day service, launched some 25 years ago, is staying fresh with a number of value-added features. These include a Flat-Rate envelope, a pre-paid Flat-Rate envelope and a proposed Flat-Rate box.


Our customer base is broadening because were reaching out to a variety of customer audiences. We supply a range of Priority Mail services from corrugated boxes, paperboard to Tyvek envelopes and pressure-sensitive tapes to address labels and decals, says Daniel Barrett, U.S. Postal Service manager of Expedited Packaging.


The widely used Priority Mail Flat-Rate envelope, introduced by the Postal Service in 1991, offers one low, predetermined rate, regardless of the actual weight or destination of the envelope, for everything you can fit comfortably in a 9.5-inch x 12.5-inch envelope. During December 2003, the Postal Service rolled out a pre-paid Flat-Rate envelope, featuring a $3.85 Jefferson Memorial postage stamp printed directly onto the envelope. Both Priority Mail envelope products are doing well, Barrett notes, because of convenience and value offered. Shippers only need to consider USPS Priority Mail zone pricing when they use their own envelopes and the shipments weigh more than a pound. The one pound or less rate is unzoned (flat) as long as it doesnt go over a pound, Barrett explains.


USPS is taking the Flat-Rate concept to larger packages and is hopeful that Postal Rate Commission will approve its pending request for two new Flat-Rate boxes in time for a November 2004 launch. The proposed Flat-Rate box, priced at $7.70 (two Jefferson Memorial stamps), also affords customers a single, predetermined rate, regardless of the actual weight or destination zone of the package. By eliminating the need for postage calculation based upon these two variables, often unknown to shippers and taking time and energy to determine, were creating a simpler solution, making it easier to mail than ever before, Barrett says.


Barrett notes that customers of all kinds from small- to medium-sized businesses, including retailers, to consumers will seek out the new Flat-Rate Priority Mail box for its convenience. USPS plans to offer the corrugated fiberboard Flat-Rate Priority Mail boxes in two sizes: a long, shallow box and a tall box. The outside dimensions of the two options are 14 inches x 12 inches x 3.5 inches and 11.25 inches x 8.75 inches x 6 inches respectively, each equating to a cube capacity of 0.34 cubic feet. Like other standard Priority Mail supplies, the boxes will be offered at no cost to customers.


Specialized and Customized Packaging

Other USPS expedited packaging solutions are meeting with growing demand from commercial accounts. Over the last decade, these customers have enjoyed the benefits of personalized packaging. And its growing more popular, says Robert Lee, package specialist with USPS Package Services division. Lee notes that while the USPS cant negotiate shipping rates, tailored services such as Specialized and Customized Packaging can contribute to a shippers fulfillment operations success. The services also net shippers marketing benefits because packaging, printing and branding is produced with an eye toward the customers entire marketing scheme.


For instance, shippers generating more than $50,000 annually in expedited services are eligible for Specialized Packaging services from the Postal Service. Shippers can select from 18 boxes and four Tyvek envelope solutions. This means that these supplies must order in advance, printed and delivered directly to the customer in large quantities.


For those customers requiring truly customized shipping solutions beyond Specialized Packaging, the Postal Service offers a range of Customized Packaging services. These services allow shippers to further meld their branding with other marketing strategies, whether direct mail, the Internet and broadcast advertising, because they can order their logos printed directly on Priority Mail packaging under the Postal Service co-branding program.


The co-branding program involves printing the brand identifier of the customer directly on the packaging along with the familiar U.S. Postal Service brand. These services are available to shippers generating more than $500,000 in new annual revenue for the Postal Service with a particular packaging, Lee says. He notes the Customized Packaging co-branding includes the customers two-color logo at no charge in U. S. Postal Service colors of red (PMS 485) or blue (PMS 294), while shippers pay extra for additional colors resulting in boxes with three-color or four-color printing.


Lee provides another example of a high-volume shipper of printed materials that requested special window envelopes. The financial services company met the revenue threshold for Customized Services, and USPS staff worked with the company to develop a customized envelope. We devised a simple address-windowed envelope to meet its needs. Word has spread and we have had huge interest in the marketplace from other customers for these die-cut, windowed envelopes, Lee says.