Saturday, August 18, 2007

Postal Economics, Consumer Edition

by B. Strong

As some of you know, I recently moved a year's supply and accumulation of Stuff across the country. Despite my best efforts to purge the library, this included 6 boxes of books, which I shipped via USPS' media mail at a cost of around $69. I didn't buy insurance, because (a) I didn't think about it and the clerk didn't mention it, and (b) even if I had thought of it, I generally decline offers to pay extra to insure myself against organizational incompetence.

The UPS ground rate for the same shipment would have been at least $180. I left the post office feeling pretty pleased with myself for saving $110, more or less.

Except...

USPS managed to lose 2 of the 6 boxes. Roughly a third of the contents of one of the two absent boxes appeared in a large envelope later, but of the remaining two thirds there is no sign. Assuming roughly equal weight per box, the total loss is a shade under a quarter of what we shipped.

Unfortunately, the missing books are all kids books, which are not only relatively expensive on a per pound basis but also have significant um, emotional value. In monetary terms, I'd guess the replacement costs will easily top $300, putting us around $200 in the red. In tear terms, much much more.

Worst of all, the Thomas the Really Annoying Tank Engine booklets survived. I'd pay extra for a USPS service that would make these disappear.


Note to Drek: fortunately, The Sandwalk Adventures also made the journey, so discussions of follicle mites' butts or lack thereof are still part of the household conversation.

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Comments:
When UPS lost my stereo, I hadn't bought insurance either, but their standard (i.e., included in the price) insurance was--at least in the Dark Ages--$250 for a shipment.
 
I edited the post to correct the "UPS" and "USPS" references.

The included insurance for UPS is $100 these days.

A couple Christmases ago, I'd shipped a bunch of records from Delaware to Madison via FedEx Ground, which cost a fortune and the condition of the boxes (and of a number of the sleeves) suggested serious abuse.

The main technical issue is that the mechanized sorting equipment involves drops of up to several feet, which can burst moderately heavy packages open pretty easily if they aren't very well secured. (The trick with the TtFTE stuff would be to pack it densely but poorly.) Very heavy packages are usually handled such that there are no lifts or drops.

It's also a bad idea to put outer paper wrappers over boxes, since there's some machine action that can, in some scenarios, rip off the wrapper under circumstances that would make it very hard to reunite the rest of the package w/ the delivery address.
 
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