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The Ties that Bind

Postage increases come and go. Of late, more often than they used to, it seems. Those of us who watch the cost of a first class stamp go up three or four cents every year or so often overlook the increases that are hidden, the increases in the cost of mailing things.

Like everybody else who watches first class stamp prices, I didn't pay too much attention to the postage increases of July of 2002. Until I mailed an order.

Suddenly the orders which had been costing $3.50 or $4.00 to ship were costing over $5.00. No joke.

When I first started Whiskey Creek Stamps, I had a sliding scale for postage. Most of the stampers ordering from me accepted the $3.50 minimum postage and handling even when ordering one stamp made the postage almost as much as the stamp.

Then came the mega postage increase of July of 2002 and it became almost impossible to send a mounted stamp for even $3.50. Crazy, you say! Indeed!

The Pitfalls of Charging Actual Postage

I then began trying to charge customers the actual postage for shipping an order, offering to go with either parcel post, which takes up to two weeks, or first class or priority mail. That was, alas, no solution. First class mail is only ten or twenty cents less than priority, and if the package is over a pound, it can't be mailed first class but must go priority. If the package is fat -- bulging out the sides of the Priority flat mailer -- forget the lowest rate no matter what it weighs.

The cruelest cut of all? Priority, which used to be more or less the same rate throughout the United States, suddenly became zoned like the other brand. Mailed beyond a state or two, there was no longer a $3.50 rate, period.

I have decided to return to the sliding scale postage system.

As my catalogs increased in size, so did the postage rate. What used to cost me $.98 now costs me $1.27. Some of the catalogs outside of the United States cost me $4.00 to send. But I believe in the importance of free catalogs. With me, it's a matter of principal. Since I've transitioned into full time writing, I am no longer able to produce these catalogs and keep up with the demand for them. At 4500 catalogs later, I am still committed in principal to free catalogs.

What I hadn't counted on, though, was the Post Office's increasing concern about what you sent out of the country after 9/11. I now had to make a customs declaration even to send a catalog to Canada. Printed matter, something that could well go for media rate. Suddenly a customs commodity.

So, my postage life was definitely eating up more of my time than it merited, not to mention the money when I underestimated the weight and zone. Yes, there's an online U.S. Post Office page to calculate weights and postage, but when the package is near the cut-off weight, it's very difficult to get it to the post office and get the parcel mailed before it's absorbed enough humidity to land in the heavier rate category. Believe me, even the chocolate-laden hand of a toddler can bump these packages into the higher postage rate.

Stripped Down Packaging

I have even tried to cut down the cost of postage by stripping the manufacturer's packaging from those few stamping accessories I handle. I trust my customers realize when they receive a bare heat gun in the mail, it's not because I bought it at a yard sale. The manufacturer's packaging can add a dollar to the cost of sending it out.

Before I started handling embossing powders, I wondered why other vendors were shipping their orders out in double plastic bags. Ah, foolish woman! Now I know. The containers, at least for the bulk detail embossing powder I sell, create bulky packages requiring higher postage rates even if the containers didn't weigh half a pound to begin with.

Back to a Fixed Postage and Handling Fee

It's time to go back to the sliding scale for shipping and handling. If a package suddenly shifts to the heavier rate, I have the flexibility to send the package any way I can to keep it under the postage and handling fee.

The new shipping and handling rates?

Most items in my catalog have a shipping and handling charge, except for my plates. I am still willing to pay the priority rate on them because I can still place them nicely flat into a priority mail envelope.

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