The postal rate increase that kicks in Monday is shaping up to be a big headache for many businesses.
For the first time, the U.S. Postal Service will be charging by the shape of the mail. Many companies say they are confused and frustrated as they try to adjust to the new rules, and some say mailings could be severely curtailed due to higher postage costs.
The new regulations mean larger envelopes and packages will automatically cost more than smaller mail. Currently, postage is determined by weight, unless it's an especially large or odd-shaped package that warrants special handling.
If your solution, come Monday, is to stuff the same amount of material into a smaller envelope, the Postal Service could get you there, too: There are new thickness restrictions.
For first-class letter envelopes, the allowed thickness is a quarter inch. If you go over a quarter inch, you run into more costly large-envelope or parcel rates.
Postal Service spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the new rates take shape into account because it requires more effort to process a larger piece of mail.
"Before, thickness didn't matter," he said. Now, "thickness does come into play. If it gets too thick you create a new shape."
Cindy Golebiewski, an office manager in Wilmington, Del., said her company faces much higher postage costs under the new rules.
"The price is just doubling," she said.
If not for the new thickness limits, "we would be better off stuffing a 6-by-9-inch envelope than putting it into a big brown envelope," she said.
The Direct Marketing Association in New York is "very, very unhappy," said spokeswoman Stephanie Hendricks. "The rates go into effect on Monday under protest."
She complained that businesses also have to deal with a new pricing category called "not flat-machinable."
That pertains to mailings that are not flat and more rigid because they might contain things like cardboard. As such, they don't go through processing machines as easily as letters - they have "parcel-like characteristics," Partenheimer said.
The new rules pose a problem for Roska Direct Advertising in suburban Philadelphia, which produces marketing pieces in unique shapes like small boxes.
"We're trying to figure it out," said Mario Amici, senior vice president of production, operations and project management. "The post office hasn't really explained this."
Even mailing a simple brochure may pose a problem for businesses.
Postage for a three-panel brochure weighing an ounce might cost the new rate of 41 cents - up from 39 cents - unless it's not folded well and the envelope puffs up to half an inch. If the mail can't be easily flattened, then the postage would shoot up to 80 cents. Under the old rules, the envelope could puff out and still cost the same.
Details of the new rates are available at www.usps.com or 800-275-8777. *