How the U.S. Postal Service Works

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Post Office Services

The Postal Service offers services and products beyond delivery. You can buy packaging, from bubble-pack envelopes to cardboard boxes. You can also buy postcards and, of course, stamps. At the USPS Web site you can calculate your postage and print it on your own printer, or call to have a package picked up. Through the USPS affiliate CardStore®, you can create a personalized greeting card online, add a gift card from one of several national retailers and mail the card with a click of a mouse -- and a quick dip into your wallet. It even offers a reminder service so you don't have any excuse for forgetting to send cards for special occasions.

postman, new york
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A snowstorm hasn't deterred this mail carrier in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Post office boxes
P.O. boxes have been around for more than 200 years. These small rectangular boxes are usually located in an area of the post office that is accessible 24 hours a day. You can rent one for a relatively small fee that is based on the size of the box. The boxes themselves are built into an interior wall of the post office so that the locked side is accessible to customers and the other side is open so that employees can insert mail.

There are several benefits to having a P.O. box. It can be more secure, you can often get your mail earlier in the day and it can disguise the fact that your new business is really just you in your spare room at home. Also, if you change addresses within the same city, you don't have to change your mailing address. Some small towns actually require residents to have post office boxes.

Money orders
Money orders are a safe and inexpensive alternative to sending cash through the mail. You can purchase them from any post office or any mail carrier. You can purchase postal money orders for up to $1,000, but customers are restricted to a daily limit of $10,000. They can be cashed at any post office or deposited at banks and other financial institutions. And if they're damaged, lost or stolen, they can be replaced.

The USPS offers domestic and international money orders, international money orders and an international money-wiring service.

Extra security
The USPS offers several services for additional security, proof of delivery and recovery in the event of a loss. These services include: Certified Mail, Registered Mail, Delivery Confirmation, Signature Confirmation and the ability to purchase insurance up to $1,000. These services provide many options for delivery confirmation, obtaining copies of signatures of acceptance, confirmation of shipment and tracking of high-value items.

USPS Evolution
The USPS is in tune with the fact that as broadband Internet access increases, its revenue will ultimately decrease. So it is planning strategies for simplifying products and services and tailoring them to better meet customers' needs.

  • The new Priority Mail Flat-Rate boxes take the guesswork out of postage by creating one rate regardless of weight or distance.
  • A service called CONFIRM uses bar codes to track mail as it makes its way through the system.
  • New information-based markings, which are are imprinted on envelopes and packages during processing, enable the postal service to offer more opportunities for tracking shipments and expediting service.
  • The Intelligent Mail device (IMD) is a handheld scanner that can read current bar codes and electronic signatures.
  • The Postal Automated Redirection Systems reduces costs for mail that must be forwarded or returned to sender.
  • New sensors and detectors reduce sorting errors and determine when two pieces of mail have become stuck together.
  • New sorters have up to 302 separations -- three times more than the machines they replaced.

These are just a few of the enhancements, customer strategies and operations improvements that are under way or under development at the USPS. You'll be able to count on the USPS to deliver letters and packages at reasonable cost for years to come. Remember, "neither snow, nor rain…" nor high-speed Internet…"

For more information about the USPS, check out the links on the next page.

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