Does the Post Office ever want to make you go Postal?

Monday, 1 June 2009 08:48 by The Lunatic

I’ve been mailing out a lot of packages lately, and the staff at my local post office just seem to drive me crazy.  Here’s a typical interaction:

“How would you like this to be mailed, sir?”

“Whatever is cheapest – there’s no hurry.”

“Well, we can send it Parcel Post for $4.90 which will get it there in 3 to five business days, priority mail for $10.35 which is two to three days, or $25.15 for overnight express mail.”

“Whatever is cheapest – there’s no hurry. Parcel Post is fine.”

“Ok, would you like to add delivery confirmation or insurance?”

“Does that make it any cheaper?” I asked, hoping she’d get the hint.

“No sir, it does not.  Delivery confirmation is only 80 cents and insurance will vary depending on the value.  The rates are ...”

“No thank you, just standard parcel post is fine.”

“Ok, is there anything liquid, perishable, flammable, or potentially hazardous inside?”


“Are you sure, because if there’s liquid in here then it has to be packed in a different package. We can sell you a different box for only $4.95 but you will need to supply your own tape.  However, we can provide tape for you if you upgrade to Priority Mail. The total for a new box plus Priority Mail shipping would be $15.30”

“No thank you, just standard parcel post is fine.”

“Your total is $4.90. Would you like to purchase any stamps or shipping supplies?”

“No thank you.”

I think I’ve had this exact same conversation at least five times in the past two weeks. I feel like I’m in a fast food joint getting pressured to buy French Fries with my burger.

Don’t get me wrong – I think the Post Office is a fairly well run operation.  Postage is cheap, delivery is usually pretty quick, and quite reliable. If I was the CEO of a delivery business, I’d be hard pressed to figure out how to get an envelope across the country for forty four cents.

But two weeks ago, a new issue came up.  I had sold a series of DVD’s on eBay and I wanted to send them Media Mail like I normally do. That time the conversation went like this:

“How would you like this to be mailed, sir?

“Media Mail please.  These are DVD’s.”

“Are they for educational purposes?”

“No, just DVD’s I’ve sold on eBay. It’s a television series.”

“I’m sorry sir, Media Mail is only for Educational material.”

“Since when?  I’ve been shipping Books, CD’s, and DVD’s via Media Mail for ten years. I’ve never heard that requirement before.”

“Media Mail has ALWAYS been strictly for sending Educational material. And they will randomly inspect packages and levy a fine if you are not in compliance. You are lucky you haven’t been caught.”

I knew this wasn’t right. When we released the movie Muffin Man a few years ago, I had shipped thousands of DVD’s using Media Mail and I had had long conversations with the Post Office about the best way to pack and ship the DVD’s.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t going to budge and I had only charged the buyer $2.77 for shipping. It had to go out that day, so I put up the $8.09 that they were asking for shipping a two pound box via parcel post. I had no choice but to pay the difference out of my own pocket.

I went home, and guess what ... I had a package waiting for me in my mailbox.  It was some DVD’s that I ordered on eBay. And to add insult to injury, they were shipped to me using Media Mail – but the seller had charged me for parcel post! Now I was getting pissed. My DVD’s that I sold were sent parcel post and I had to pay the difference, but I was charged parcel post for the DVD’s I purchased which were sent to me using Media Mail.

So I looked up the requirements for sending things via Media Mail on the website.  It says:

Media Mail

Send your printed or recorded material using this service.
Media Mail® service is a cost efficient way to mail books, sound recordings, recorded video tapes, printed music, and recorded computer-readable media (such as CDs, DVDs, and diskettes). Media Mail can not contain advertising except for incidental announcements of other books. The maximum weight for Media Mail is 70 lbs.

Nowhere does it say anything about this service being only for educational use. So I printed out the page and went back to the post office and showed it to the woman. She just shrugged her shoulders and said, “well, they can’t put all the requirements on the website.  If you have an issue, you’ll have to call Consumer Affairs at 202-636-1314.”

I went home and called consumer affairs. They were very apologetic – I was told that the staff at the local post office is mistaken.  I was told that the website is correct – Media Mail is for MEDIA, which includes things like books, CD’s, DVD, printed music, recordings, etc.  He confirmed that there is no mention in any of the regulations that says Media Mail is only for educational use.  But of course, they wouldn’t refund the amount that I was overcharged – they weren’t THAT apologetic.

On a hunch, I looked up the shipping guidelines on eBay and here is what they advise sellers:

Media Mail
You can use Media Mail to send books, film, manuscripts, printed music, printed test materials, sound recordings, play scripts, printed educational charts, loose-leaf pages and binders consisting of medical information, videotapes, DVD’s, and computer recorded media such as CD-ROMs and diskettes.

Media Mail cannot contain advertising. It is sometimes called "Book Rate." It is less expensive than Parcel Post.

I had to go to the post office a few days later, so I brought the printout of the website, the notes from my call with Consumer Affairs, and the printout of the eBay guidelines.  But they were less than sympathetic. The woman said “We just do what we’ve been told to do in our training class, and unless someone tells us differently we will not allow you to send DVD’s using Media Mail unless it is educational material only.”

Hmmph. Since then, I’ve received three more shipments of DVD’s I’ve ordered on eBay and they’ve all been sent Media Mail.

But the saga isn’t over yet!

Today, I have another shipment to go out.  I sold our copy of “Muzzy” on eBay – it’s a Spanish language course for children, produced by the BBC. It’s a packaged set of multiple DVD’s and CD’s with two instruction books.

“They won’t have an issue with that one”, I thought smugly since it is clearly an educational program. So I boxed it up in a used medium sized Fed-X box, which fit just perfectly.  I taped it up, and – per the guidelines on the website – I removed or blocked off all existing bar codes and old address labels.

I got to the post office this morning, went up to the counter and said in a cheerful voice, “I’d like to send this Media Mail, Please!”

I was ready.  If she gave me any grief about sending the package by Media Mail, I was going to give her an earful.

She looked down at my box and said “I’m sorry sir, that isn’t packaged properly.  You need to completely block off all signs of the Fed-X logo everywhere on the box.”

I looked at her in disbelief and sputtered “I removed all the old barcodes and shipping labels, which is what the website says to do when reusing a box!”

“I’m sorry sir” she replied, “That is a competing company and we will not ship anything that has their logo on it. It can’t even show through the packing tape.”

Since when does a government run organization worry about competition???

So here I am, back at home with a black marker, blacking out all traces of the Fed-X logo. If I get back there and they give me any grief at all, I swear I’m going to go postal on them.

Categories:   Social Issues
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Comments (2) -

June 3. 2009 13:39

There are three post offices within a few miles from me, so if I had a problem, I could frequent a different one.  However, the folks at the closest one are usually very helpful, even when they have problems with the downtown branch, which is where all packages and change of addresses are sent through and the downtown branch is EXTREMELY bad.  They've sent books back for being too heavy with a note to bring them to the local post office when I DID hand deliver them to the local post office.  Every time I re-send one (we send out a lot of books) the clerks can see me hot-under-the-collar and apologize before I even tell them it happened again.

Also, our business change of address has still not gone through!  (we move in late April for God's sake.)  After several phone calls.  My local branch says their hands are tied, it all happens downtown and there is no number to call downtown to complain.  Finally, the local branch took pity and just started manually forwarding all our stuff - they do go above and beyond, which I think most branches don't.


June 3. 2009 13:41

P.S.  Have you considered asking for the supervisor?


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