Saturday, March 12, 2016

Postage and Mail Hacks for Startups

Some startups use FedEx, some use UPS. All have to use the United States Postal Service (USPS) at some point in their operations, and some have found that the Post Office can be cheaper and more efficient than the private sector delivery services. Also, many startups use the USPS as their primary delivery service for their products.

Fortunately, there are many "hacks" available to reduce the cost of your postage, and in certain instances,  get Express Mail delivery service for free. (This actually happened to me this week.) Hopefully you will find these strategies of use, and save your company some money.

Express Mail Delivery for Free

If you have ever had to send something fast with a guarantee, the USPS has something called Priority Mail Express. Although the name of the service says "1-Day," it is actually one or two days depending on various factors. For example, if you mail it on a Saturday, it will arrive on a Tuesday by 12 noon.

Earlier this week, I mailed an envelope using Priority Mail Express on a Tuesday afternoon from the San Francisco area to Philadelphia, and it was guaranteed to arrive by Thursday at 12 noon. Keep an eye on the word "guaranteed" as I will cover that shortly.

Anyway, the cost to send something by Express is currently $31.20, or if you use one of the post office's flat rate envelopes (also available are legal size envelopes and padded envelopes for the same cost of postage), the price is only $22.95. By the way, the envelopes that the post office provides are free.

Here's the deal. If it doesn't arrive by when it is stated on the receipt (by 12 noon within 2 business days), you get a complete refund of your cost. And they pay you immediately (no waiting for a check to arrive weeks later). And they pay you in cash even if you originally charged the postage on a credit card.

The point I am trying to make is that you need to check when your Express mail arrives. Easiest way is to go to the USPS web site and type in the tracking number in the Search Box in the upper right hand corner. This is especially true if you send out a lot of mail using Express, as the $22.95 per envelope can add up.

Obviously, there is nothing you can do about your letter or package arriving after the deadline besides getting a refund, but I have sent letters through both FedEx and UPS that arrived after the deadline also.

One other thing I should mention is that in addition to the money back guarantee and free tracking, you also get up to $100 in insurance for free.

The process of getting a refund is simple. You must go into your local post office with both the register receipt and the Express Mail receipt (make copies for yourself because the PO will keep the originals when you request the refund.)

They will hand you a Form 3533-GE to fill out, which just asks for your name, address, phone number, and signature. You hand it to them, they hand you your cash refund, and you sign the back of the form saying that you received the refund.

Free Mail Tracking to Canada

OK, let's say you want to mail some important documents to Canada, and you are not concerned about delivery time but you are concerned about tracking the envelope and confirmation of delivery. For example, maybe you are mailing some documents or a contract in a large envelope that weighs a couple ounces.

Here are your primary options:
Priority Mail Express International for at least $40.95
First Class Mail International Registered for $16.55

Pretty expensive for half a dozen pages. By the way, Priority Mail International (cheaper than Priority Mail Express International but takes a little longer) does NOT provide tracking. So what's the alternative to these high prices?

You can send it as a package, also known interchangeably as a parcel, and use a service called First Class Package International, and get tracking for free. This would bring the cost down to a more reasonable $9.50.

To turn your envelope into a parcel/package, you need to get a stiff piece of cardboard and slide it into the envelope. The best option is corrugated cardboard, because it is lightweight. You can cut a piece out of a large box. Do NOT use a flexible piece of cardboard. The envelope must be considered "rigid."

There is one more important step. You cannot get the free tracking for this service by going in to your local post office. You MUST order your postage online.

Before you get started, you obviously need to know the weight of your envelope. Need a good postage scale? Accuteck makes a good one called the Accuteck All-In-One Digital Shipping Postal Scale. The retail price on it is $49.99 but it is on sale at Amazon right now for only $16.99. Click here for more information on it.

Here are the steps:
1. If you don't already have an account with the post office, you need to set one up by going to https://reg.usps.com/entreg/RegistrationAction_input
2. Go to the Calculate a Price webpage here: https://postcalc.usps.com
3. Enter Canada for your destination and fill in the rest of the fields
4. In the bottom section, choose Large Envelope (lower section of step 5)
5. For step 6, enter the weight in round numbers, and round up. (e.g. if the envelope weight 2.2 ounces, enter 3 ounces.) Then click Continue.
6. Enter the From Zip Code and To Postal Code, then click Continue
7. Check the box that says "The Large Envelope is too Rigid – does not bend easily."
8. On the International Services page, scroll down and click on the blue bar that says First Class International Options and click the little circle next to First Class Package International Service
9. Click the button that says Custom Forms and Extra Services
10. Click the checkbox next to Electronic USPS Delivery Confirmation International. You will notice that for Retail, it says Not Available, but for Click-N-Ship, it says No Charge.
11. Click Continue, then click Print Postage. You will need to log in, enter the appropriate information (don't use strange symbols in the fields), and charge your postage to a major credit card. (By the way, there is a check box at the beginning which asks if you want to be notified of the tracking by email. I highly recommend this.)
12. You will then need to print out your half sheet postage form (looks like a customs form) and tape it to the front of your envelope. Don't cover bar codes with any tape.

Free Mail Tracking to Europe

Need to send an envelope of paperwork to Germany or the UK and want to get tracking without having to pay the high price of Express or Registered Mail? No problem, just follow the directions for Canada and go through the same steps to send your envelope.

Here is what you can save. Express will cost you $60.75, and $17.31 for Registered. But sending it as a parcel with cardboard in it will only cost $13.50. In addition, I have noticed that First Class Package International travels much faster than Registered International, because with Registered, it needs to be signed for every step of the way.

Remember, in order to get this price, it must be purchased online.

Free Mail Tracking in the US

Sending paperwork within the United States? It is pretty much the same process to send internationally. Here is how the numbers work out if you want tracking:
Priority Mail $6.45
First Class with Registered $14.20
First Class with Certified $4.65 (delivery verification)

So the alternative is First Class Mail Parcel, which would cost only $2.54 for the same example. There is one BIG difference between buying postage for First Class Mail Parcel in the US versus First Class Mail Parcel internationally. Unfortunately, you cannot buy postage online for First Class Mail Parcel in the US. It must be purchased at the post office.

Free Tracking for Books Sent Media Mail (However a Possible Cheaper Alternative)

If you send out books on a regular basis, you are probably familiar with Media Mail and its very low shipping cost. According to the USPS website, Media Mail can be used for "books, films, manuscripts, printed music, printed test materials, sound recordings, play scripts, printed educational charts, loose-leaf pages and their binders consisting of medical information, video recordings, educational reference charts, and computer-readable media."

If you are sending a box with a book weighing eight ounces, it would automatically qualify for First Class Mail Parcel which would cost $3.54. Yet, if you send by Media Mail, the price is only $2.72.

A couple issues you should be aware of. First, your package is subject to inspection. You cannot send anything else with the book or other media item; no letter, no invoice, no advertising. Otherwise your package will be delayed and returned. Second, media mail generally takes a lot longer than First Class.

Now for the "However." If the box weighs four ounces or less, you are actually better off sending by First Class Parcel, since it is cheaper. As an example, if it weighs three ounces, Media is $2.72 but First Class is only $2.54. You get the tracking and it's faster.

Buying Postage Stamps at a Discount from Retail

It may be hard to believe, but it is possible to buy unused postage stamps at a discount from face value. Many stamp shops, online stamp sellers, and many sellers on eBay sell older stamps that have never been used, sometimes way below what the retail price of the stamps are. Can't believe it? Go to eBay, type in 'Postage' or 'Postage below face' or 'Stamps below face' in the Search box, and look at what comes up. I recently found $225 worth of unused stamps offered at a current bid of $88. I just saw $24.50 of unused postage stamps for 20% below face, Buy It Now, with free shipping. There are plenty of other offers like this. I've even seen Collectible Postage Stamps Below Face Value being sold on Amazon.
Commemorative Stamps

How can this be? Often, stamp dealers will buy stamps from estates of stamp collectors and pay a price that is a huge discount to the face value of the stamps, sometimes 50% of face value. They can then afford to resell them still at a 10%, 20% or 30% discount to face to people who want to use the postage on envelopes. Years ago, small businesses may have stocked up on rolls of stamps before the Forever Stamps came out, and now it is easier for them to just sell the rolls at a discount and buy new rolls, instead of using the stamps with additional stamps to add up to the current rate.

When looking at eBay listings, the two key definitions you should know about are 'Below Face' and MNH, which stands for Mint Never-Hinged or Mint No Hinge. This means that the stamp has never been used, never cancelled and in mint condition. The hinge part refers to little hinges that collectors use to attach stamps to pages of albums. You lick them just like a stamp, so you obviously don't want any that have been hinged.

There is one other type of stamp that you may see offered, and those are the 'no gum' stamps. If the seller got these off of envelopes and packages he received in the mail that weren't cancelled, they are illegal to sell. If they are from flood damaged stamps or soaked off SASE stamps from envelopes that were never used, they are legal; however, it is a real hassle to try to glue these on envelopes whenever you want to send a letter.
Abe Lincoln Postage Stamp
If you do any sort of advertising by US Mail, you should be aware that studies have shown that envelopes with commemorative stamps are far more likely to be opened than those with just a standard postage stamp with just a flag or a metered stamp.

Hopefully, if you do a lot of shipping with the USPS, some of these ideas will help you save money on postage.

All trademarks and registered trademarks referenced above are the trademarks and registered trademarks of the United States Postal Service. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Last Day to Attend the Launch Festival in San Francisco

The Launch Festival at Fort Mason in San Francisco has been running for a couple days, and today is the last day. If you haven't attended yet, you really need to get over there. Many speakers and hundreds of exhibitors.

The Demo Pit opened at 8 am this morning and the theater doors open at 9:30 am. You really need to check out all the exhibitors.

An example is CafeX, which has a large robot arm inside a cylindrical kiosk that will pour and serve you coffee that you order through an app on your phone.

Then there is Bolt Motorbikes, which creates electric bikes that look like motorcycles but legally qualifies as bicycles.

Then there is Meadow, which is an online service that allows you to order medical marijuana through their website, and have it delivered to you.

Don't forget to stop by the Jungle Bar table and taste the cricket bar.

The exhibitors are very diverse in terms of industry, so you really don't want to miss seeing them. More info can be found at: