What are best practices for sending a lot of media mail rate packages?
January 18, 2017 10:12 AM   Subscribe

What are best practices for sending a lot of media mail rate packages via USPS?

I'm shipping out a bunch of albums (vinyl records), shrinkwrapped and sent to me from the manufacturer. There are about 100 of them and I've packed them all in cardboard record mailers with labels for mailing addresses and return address. Variables are:

*About half of them also include a CD in a jewel case so they weigh slightly more.
*Some are going to domestic U.S. addresses and some are going to international addresses.

There are also about 25 CD-only packages that are packed in bubble-wrap mailers and also go to both domestic and international addresses.

I'm planning on going to my main post office facility on Friday (in San Francisco, so the big one on Evans Street). Should I have things pre-sorted somehow and into what categories? Do I just wait in a standard line, somehow including all 100+ packages with me? The logistics of getting me and all the packages to one window at a post office seem difficult but does every item need to be weighed and inspected or can I give them representative items in the various weight classes to weigh and then they can give me X number of postage stickers?

I avoid going to the post office if at all possible but there doesn't seem to be a way to do this without it. I don't think I can do media mail at self-service kiosks.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My first suggestion would be a contracted, label at home service like Stamps.com that allows you to prepay shipping labels, including media mail. Then you can just drop it all off at the post office at once.

If you don't want to go that route, and will go in person, I can't think of any way to speed it up, as each package will be individually weighed, then the clerk will type in the zip code, hit media mail, and print out the label to stick on your package. Expect to be there for awhile.

You should sort out the international mail from the domestic mail, but note that International mail doesn't qualify for media mail rates.
posted by Karaage at 10:44 AM on January 18, 2017

Might be worth calling the post office to give them a heads up and/or see if there's a time they'd prefer you come in?
posted by bowmaniac at 10:55 AM on January 18, 2017

With this secret paypal link you can print media mail labels. No idea if it's cheaper or more expensive, but it's really convenient.
posted by gregr at 11:01 AM on January 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

supposedly pre-printing media mail labels through paypal/ebay/whatever is significantly cheaper.
posted by noloveforned at 11:08 AM on January 18, 2017

each package will be individually weighed

This varies. At my (smaller) post office if I sort them into "This has an album, this has a CD, this has an album and a CD" piles, they can weigh a representative one and then know what the weight is for all of them. BUT they will still need to go through and print out a label at a time based on the zip codes. There is no media mail for international mail and you should try to grab a stack of customs forms and fill them out in advance because that is going to take a while. Here's an online tool where you can do it. International mail needs to be brought in to the post office.

Keep in mind that Media Mail pricing only kicks in when stuff is over a pound so make sure your stuff is actually that heavy. If it's 13 ounces or less, you can just put postage on the packages and drop them in a blue mailbox (though there is some debate about whether this always works when I searched online, it always worked for me) which may definitely work for bubble mailers and CDs.
posted by jessamyn at 11:10 AM on January 18, 2017

I've not used one myself, but apparently when you have a lot of packages USPS likes a Shipment Confirmation Acceptance Notice (SCAN) Form PS 5630. There's some discussion of them here.
posted by exogenous at 11:44 AM on January 18, 2017

I don't think I can do media mail at self-service kiosks.

There is a way to do this: First to figure out the price (1lb for $2.61, 2 lbs for $3.09) for each package and then buy a custom amount stamp in that value. Assuming you don't have a postage scale at home but you would like to do the stamping at home, bring one package of each size to the PO and weigh them using the self service kiosk (pretending like you will mail it as a parcel). Once you know the weights for each of your packages, buy the right number of $2.61 or $3.09 stamps and then affix them all - no ZIP code needed. This qualifies as electronic postage, not stamps, and so you can technically put those into a blue box. However, I think it would be best to hand them over the counter after you have stamped them. I have done this exact process quite a bit with single books and it has always worked for me. Make sure your label says "Media Mail" in red on it so they know why you are paying the lower rate.

For package transportation, would 1-2 rolling suitcases work?

Media Mail pricing only kicks in when stuff is over a pound
I think Media Mail will be cheaper at any weight because CDs and records are rigid so they will need to be mailed as Parcels. Parcel rates start at $2.62.
posted by soelo at 12:06 PM on January 18, 2017

Ugh. I'm glad I asked about this because there was so much I didn't know about. The SCAN form thing is particularly perplexing. Can I generate one from the PayPal shipping option? Pretty sure I couldn't do that from the kiosk though I do like the idea of taking them there to generate electronic postage.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:18 PM on January 18, 2017

My post office guy corrected me. Media mail is only worthwhile over 13 oz.
posted by jessamyn at 12:40 PM on January 18, 2017

I dealt with a similar project recently, sending many items Media Mail.

After much experimentation, here's the process I found most helpful:
- download and sign up for Endicia (i think the monthly subscription is $15 or so), which is both for Mac & Windows

- use Endicia to print out the prepaid mailing labels

- tape or glue the labels to the packages - now they're all addressed and paid for - and ready to go.

- either drop everything off at the post office, bypassing the line (if they have that ability to receive prepaid items) or use usps.com to schedule a pickup a day ahead, and they'll come & pick up all the packages. Just make sure you have some non-media-mail items, like a few Priority mail items, to make it worth their while to make a pickup (i believe they won't pick up if it's all media mail).

Whatever you do, don't bring a huge stack of items to the PO, to be weighed and stamped one at a time... they (and the customers behind you in line) won't like that :)
posted by mark7570 at 2:15 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've used that post office many times, including when I was selling used books on Amazon and often had a couple of bags of Media Mail packages to ship.

It's rarely super busy and the staff seem to be extra friendly. It has a large waiting area and the booths seem to be bigger, too -- this is definitely not your poky little P.O. If you can go towards the end of the day, you may not even have much of a wait at all.
posted by vickyverky at 3:02 PM on January 18, 2017

The only reasonable way to do this is with everything paid and labeled already. Using labels instead of electronic postage will make it unnecessary for anything to require weighing and stamping at the post office. To my mind Paypal is your best option. Stamps.com and Endicia are great but they're better suited for people with more complex and continuous shipping needs than you have. Pay for your postage with Paypal, print the labels, and attach them. Media mail is a better deal for every parcel over 8 ounces. First class is one cent cheaper for packages that weigh eight ounces or less, so probably just your CDs. Take them to the post office and ask someone what to do with them (since there are too many for you to drop them in a self-service box).

You definitely need to print shipping labels for all the international items. If you don't prepay for international postage, not only do you have to fill out some interminable European address on both the package and a customs form, but the postal clerk will have to type it up while you wait. If you have multiple international items it takes forever. You'll be sending everything First Class Package International. Be sure to sign the customs form.

If you can't figure out how to generate a SCAN form, I wouldn't worry. It obviously saves some post office worker the hassle of scanning your packages, but scanning a hundred packages is not a big deal.

Do you have cardboard filler pads for the records? It's certainly best to have a pad on both sides of the record, and the mailers will fit better. If you want to get really fancy you can secure the CDs in a jewel case sized hole in one of the pads.
posted by vathek at 3:09 PM on January 18, 2017

Well I guess it's better that I sit at home and make postage labels one by one rather than stand in line while a postal employee does it.

Nope, no cardboard fillers. It seems to fit fine and we talked with others that didn't use them so we're hoping for the best.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:22 PM on January 18, 2017

otherwordlyglow: "The SCAN form thing is particularly perplexing. Can I generate one from the PayPal shipping option?"

Looks like yes.
posted by exogenous at 7:28 AM on January 19, 2017

I think I'm going to use Stamps.com. I should be able to get this all done in the 30-day trial period and then I can cancel and get on with my life. I don't expect to have to do this again anytime soon, thankfully.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:20 PM on January 19, 2017

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