If it Fits it Ships… Right? USPS Releases Internal Memo Fighting Their Own Policy

If a customer has manipulated or reconstructed a Priority Mail Flat Rate envelope, the item should be weighed and zoned accordingly. The package can be accepted, but must be priced at a regular Priority Mail price — not the flat-rate charge.

A lot of people are being told off at the Post office the last few days since an internal memo began circulating in the United State’s Post Service decrying abuse of the flat rate envelopes.

The hilarious memo begins by warning its readers of the incredible dangers of what it calls “Priority Mail Pouches”: “Beware of ‘Priority Mail Pouches'” The memo itself reads the following:

“USPS is reminding employees to watch out for customers improperly turning Priority Flat Rate envelopes into pouches to increase their capacity.

Some customers are using social media to demonstrate hw they enlarge flat-rate envelopes to take advantage of the expanded capacity while paying a lower price. However, postal regulations prohibit customers from reconfiguring Priority Mail Flat Rate packages.

According to the Domestic Mail Manual, tape may be used on the flaps and seams to reinforce the container; “provided the design of the container is not enlarged by opening the sides and the container is not reconstructed in any way.”

If a customer has manipulated or reconstructed a Priority Mail Flat Rate envelope, the item should be weighed and zoned accordingly. The package can be accepted, but must be priced at a regular Priority Mail price — not the flat-rate charge.

It’s an interesting memo in light of the company’s “if it fits it ships” campaign. It makes the message a bit of an absurd one. Moreover, it mangles its own language citing postage regulation which prohibits enlarging the conatiner by “opening the sides” and prohibiting reconstruction of the package in any way. The memo says that the rules ban manipulating the package (which I can only imagine means filling it up, which it doesn’t. Moreover, the memo seems to claim that the volume of the package itself is prone to manipulation through stuffage… which it isn’t.

But I think the real story here is how hilarity of USPS designing a campaign around the idea of challenging their users to stuff packages full of things, then getting angry when a few random bloggers test the limits of that claim. And before you get in a huff about the fact that it’s just the flat rate boxes that it discusses in its campaign, consider at the end of the commercial it says that these flat rate prices included in the “if it fits it ships” program start at $4.95. That is (was) the price of the flat rate envelope.

Bloggers test the limits, USPS falls right into the trap and puts the kabosh on everything. Why? Well, I assume it’s because the United States Postal Service has a very skewed understanding of why they are losing money and running into such a huge deficit problem. They have adopted a blame the customer approach. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that the post office is going bankrupt because of customers who do things like bring in too many packages close to the end of the day. But who can blame them? If it’s the pensions that are killing the organization, then the only solution to the problem is 1) increase revenues so much that you exceed the deficit caused by the liability or 2) cut off the cancer and get rid of the system (or cut it down to something manageably reasonable at the very least). The deficit is so incredible at this point that number one is a bit of an impossibility. Number two, on the other hand, is never going to happen since everyone capable of making the decision to cut the pension is a stakeholder in that decision. So the only other thing they can do is blame customers for what’s going on.

Now there are a lot of ways that the post office could get closer to being profitable. Like they could invest in a technological, logistics structure that mirrors many of the features UPS offers. They could offer corporate accounts that auto-charge customers the extra postage if they are over or under on a package instead of sending it back to the origin or forcing customers to pay on the backend, they could replace a lot of their employees with machines, they could have a better API to build software products into, and more. Even so, I doubt they could generate enough business to surpass their obligations. That said, instead of making their own offerings better, they have become the center-point of information warning old people about money-taking scams and protecting their ability to send first-class packages (a business that is fast-disappearing).

It’s a bit of a sad mess, but when I see memos like the one above go out I realize what dire straights the post office finds itself in. Last year, they ran a commercial warning people about the terrible travails of email. USPS letters can’t be hacked, not like your computer, said the post office vaunting their inconvenient alternative to instantaneous communication. In this new rash of rulemaking, however, it seems that the USPS shows its true colors as it bumbles an opportunity to actually gain some great press. “Oh my God, Bloggers are writing about us. What should we do?” For another company, like UPS, if they had challenged users to stuff packages full of goods and ship them, the stunts these bloggers are pulling (sending ridiculously heavy things through the tiny packages) would have been the media opportunity of a lifetime. A story like that reads to me like a genius marketing campaign come up with by the great minds at a firm like TBWA or Wieden Kennedy. What’s the post office’s response? “Please stop shipping your packages through the mail. It’s very inconvenient for us.”

For those interested (and I apologize for the meandering nature of this post… but it’s how I write), I don’t have the numbers behind it, but I would assume that flat rate shipping weights are fairly standard. If you were to chart them out, I would be willing to bet that it looks like a normal distribution. Most packages would weigh something like 2 pounds, a few would weigh between 1 oz and two pounds, and a similar number would weigh between 2 pounds 1 oz and 5 pounds. I’d venture a guess that the entire postal system sees no more than 10 packages per day shipped in a flat rate envelope that weigh more than 25 pounds. I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet that a 25 pound package is many orders of magnitude removed from even one standard deviation from the mean. That might represent 1 in 100000 flat rate packages… I don’t know for sure, but I’m sure that the post office has those numbers. What that means is they have begun a nationwide campaign in discourteousness simply because they do not like that some bloggers tried to test their limits and shipped what might have amounted to double the entire number of outlier packages within the system. Their response is to piss on everyone’s packages, ignore their own rules, and make customers embarrass themselves by arguing how stupid this all is. It makes me a bit scared as a business owner, and makes me wonder if the motto “if it fits, it ships,” wouldn’t be more accurately modified to simply, “if it ships…”

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