I am starting this thread due an unfortunate situation that has just happened to me on these very boards, but I will not go into the details here. I feel this a good location for this kind of thread since we are all buying and selling very fragile pieces on a daily basis. This is nothing more than a post that has been directly copied from one of the Transformer websites that gives a ton of good info when it comes to dealing with the United States Postal Service. If anyone else has any more useful info when it comes to shipping packages feel free to post them here as well. The original author is a clerk for the USPS:
1. Insurance - These days it is VERY hard to get the USPS to pay out on any insurance claim over $50. Under $50 and they can make an in-office decision. If it is over, then the decision is out of the local PO's hands. In addition to this they almost never pay out on collectibles. They officially do NOT accept eBay printouts as proof of payment or value.
So my suggestion is if you buy something expensive and get it insured, ask for a receipt from the seller to be included with the item that says the price paid, date, etc. Also if the package comes smashed, keep it. They will want to see the package when you try to make an insurance claim.
Another note about insurance is DO NOT round the number off. Give the actual value. On the days I work the window I get tons of people when I ask if they want insurance go with $50 because that is the first price point before insurance goes up. Well guess what, if it gets damaged and they put in a claim and it was really worth say $35 they are not getting their money back. If it is worth $35 make sure you tell the clerk so.
2. Delivery Confirmation - It is a confirmation of delivery, but that is it. It is not proof of anything really and is not signed for. Anybody can accept that package. I put delivery confirmation on things I sell or trade just to make the buyer feel better, but after learning the rules about it, if it doesn't get there you really have no recourse.
3. Parcel Post - Parcel Post is the bane of anything fragile. You are much better off paying a little more and shipping something priority mail than parcel post. PP mail is treated like total crap. It is stuff in bags. The bags are thrown around. THey don't care whether the heavy stuff is on top or bottom. 95% of all smashed open packages I see are either Parcel Post or Media Mail (which is treated the same way and I will get to next).
4. Media Mail - They are cracking down on people sending stuff Media Mail that isn't really. We can now ask you to open a package if we think you may be mailing something Media Mail that isn't. If you refuse, we can refuse to mail the package. It is also treated as badly as Parcel Post. Actually usually worse, since Media Mail is often heavy books, they tear through boxes when thrown around.
5. Fragile stuff - If you have something that is fragile, please ask the clerk to stamp it as such. It DOES make a difference. Packages are literally thrown around when sorted. In fact they postal lingo for sorting packages is throwing or tossing parcels. The clerk will often stand near the container with the parcels in it throwing them into buggies that are assigned to each route. These buggies in my office can be anywhere from 2 to 15 or so feet from the clerk tossing the parcels. Fragile stuff (at least in my office) is taken out of the regular mail and carried by hand to the desk of the carrier who is to deliver it so it doesn't get smashed when tossed. Of course some carriers don't like this and go toss it themselves but there is nothing I can do about that.
6. Registered mail - This really only applies if you are mailing something super valuable (in the thousands of dollars) because it is expensive to use but registered mail is the most safe and secure mail we have. It is signed for at every stop, kept separate in its own bags, which are locked and sealed, and people are actually held accountable if something happens to it (trust me this is rare in the post office!). It also has built in insurance.
7. Dropping mail in boxes - First off, if you are mailing a package, do NOT just stick stamps on it and stick it in a mailbox. It WILL be mailed back to you due to new security measures. If you did it via meter mail that is fine, but actual stamps on packages must be handstamped by a clerk in the office. Packages over (I think) 14 ounces that have uncancelled stamps on them will be mailed back to the sender this is bad for another reason I will get to next. Also dropping big stuff in a mailbox is bad for 2 other reasons. The first one is if it is say priority mail and you stuck it in a mailbox, well mailboxes are for first class mail. If the clerk doesn't see it or doesn't bother to take it out, it gets sent to the first class sorting plant first and priority mail is done separate. This can cause delays in your mail. The second reason is it will just annoy the guy who empties the boxes. Hehe.
8. Return to sender. Try to make sure you have enough postage on everything. If you get something sent back to you for lack of postage it can take a long long time. Remember that oddly shaped, oversized, and square envelopes require $.49 not $.37. The reason you don't want to get packages sent back to you return to sender is a lot of clerks are either too lazy or just don't know proper procedures for sending stuff back. This results in mail that is supposed to go back to the sender bouncing from post office to post office. Sometimes it will have actually been in the post office of where you originally sent it to multiple times (along with several others) before it gets sent back to you. I recently had a package at work that was return to sender. This was the end of the September. The parcel was originally mailed April 28.
9. Don't send cash or anything else valuable in an envelope where they can easily tell what it is! There are a lot of thieves working for the USPS, despite the large penalties for stealing from mail. This is especially a problem at the large plants where mail is sorted. I have seen many torn open empty jewelry boxes and empty check envelopes in the mail. Also you cannot insure cash sent in the mail. Some people actually don't know this so I figured I would mention it.
10. Express mail - If you send something overnight and it has a stated delivery time (usually the next day by noon or 3pm) and it doesn't get there on time, you can easily get your money back. Be sure to check online every time you send something express to make sure it got there on time. If it didn't, take all your receipts to the post office and get your money back. Even if it is 1 minute late you can get your money back. A LOT of express mail is late so it is good to always check.
11. International mail - Never ever ever ever leave the country off international mail. Even if it is to a well known city like London you are taking a huge risk by not putting England on there. The above mentioned parcel that took 5 months to get back to the sender was a package to Australia on which the sender didn't put the country. As far as I could tell it never even made it out of the US and it still took 5 months to get back to the original sender.
12. Tipping your letter carrier on Christmas is a good thing - While it is officially against postal policy for carriers to accept money not only do they do it, they expect it. I have seen countless conversations among carriers about how certain people don't give them their "whiteys" which is postal slang for Christmas tips. As a clerk I could care less about this since I work in the post office itself and I get nothing, despite sorting more mail in a day than many carriers combined, but the carriers do care. If you happen to have an evil [censored] of a carrier, I wouldn't be surprised is your mail is often delayed or late because they don't like you. They should and would be fired for things like this, but it is very hard to prove. I was told a former carrier at my work was accused by multiple people on her route of outright threatening them "If you complain about me your checks just might get lost" and they were never able to prove anything against her.
13. If you have a problem, the Postmaster is your friend...sort of. A lot of times you can ask to see or on the phone speak to the Postmaster of your city directly. Though the larger the city, the less likely you can see him. But in my experience PMs don't like complaints and are usually pretty good about trying to deal with them. The main reason is they are judged on complaints to the postal line so they generally want them dealt with before it gets to that point. Supervisors on the other hand, at least in my office, just want you to go away and leave them alone as quickly as possible.
14. If you are sending something like a comic or artwork to a PO box make sure you have the clerk put "do not bend" on it! PO boxes are pretty small and large envelopes are folded in half to fit in them. If you mark something that can be creased "do not bend" then it will not be put in the box. Instead the customer will get a card telling them to pick up their mail at the window.
15. Dogs - Carriers know if you have a dog. They keep track of customers that do. They also generally do not believe you even if you tell them your dog is friendly. So if your mail hasn't come yet, and you have a yard with access to your mailbox, make sure your dog is not outside when the mail comes or you run the risk of the carrier not delivering your mail that day. Despite the whole in rain and sleet etc. stuff, carriers are within their rights to not deliver mail to a house if they deem it a threat to themselves and dogs fall into this category.
16. Priority Mail - The post office pushes priority mail and with good reason. It is where they make the most profit, but it is also the best deal. It is quicker and treated better than Parcel Post or Media mail and the supplies are 100% free. You can get priority tape, boxes, and labels for free at the post office (though we never have rolls of tape to give out at my office) and you can even order the stuff from the usps website for free. I am always surprised how few people seem to know this. The USPS really should play up the free materials thing I would think but they have never been good at advertising.
17. Boxes - As I said above, Priority Mail boxes are free. This is important to remember if you need a box. Our office has a Postal Store that sells boxes, tape, and other things. These are very high priced items. I tell customers who try to buy either all of the time that it is almost always cheaper to send something priority mail with a free box, than buy a box and send it parcel post. Not to mention you also get to use the priority tape for free and get a free label to use. If you are not sure if it is cheaper, you can always ask the clerk to check. It doesn't take long with the new computer system.
Credit goes to "Crow" of the TFW2005 message boards for the very useful tips.