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Finding the best mail deal can deliver big savings

The Associated Press

Although the price of a first-class postage stamp is going up a penny May 12, small businesses will get a break for the first time on Express Mail and Priority Mail costs. That will help many companies, but business owners who do a lot of mailing say there are plenty of additional ways to cut expenses if you shop and ask around.

The U.S. Postal Service, making itself more competitive with commercial shippers, is taking some steps away from what it calls a “one price fits all” policy that had customers paying the same price for all pieces of mail in certain classes of service.

For example, Express Mail has had one price whether an item was sent 10 miles or 1,000 miles.

Express Mail will be priced based on zones, allowing customers sending mail nearby to pay less. Customers can also get volume discounts or save money by purchasing Express Mail online or through corporate accounts.

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Meanwhile, those who use Priority Mail can save an average of 3.5% if they use electronic postage or meet other requirements, and there will be discounts on Parcel Select and Parcel Return Service.

Mailing costs have been going up lately, along with the price of gasoline and diesel, so the Postal Service is clearly trying to win away some business from its rivals. Shipping services are all feeling the pain of a slower economy, and they’re hungry for business. Savvy company owners know how to turn a difficult situation to their advantage.

“Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate,” said Nancy Baughman, owner of EBiz Auctions Inc., a Raleigh, N.C.-based online auction service. She said she’s been able to get a better rate from shipping companies by telling them what their competitors are willing to do for her.

“Don’t be afraid to use one against the other,” Baughman said. “We do it all the time.”

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In fact, shipping services expect to negotiate with small businesses.

Melissa Ewing, co-founder of Undercover Vegetable Co., said she’s been able to lower her shipping costs by negotiating with the postmaster in nearby Traverse City, Mich. -- not on price, but services. And she found him very willing to work with her.

“They will pick up. . . . You don’t have to get off your chair,” said Ewing, who lives in a rural area and said she saved time and gasoline by working with the Postal Service. Her company makes fruit and vegetable bars.

Owners say finding the best deal on mailing comes down to research -- often, by just asking other business owners how they keep their costs in line.

There are also shipping software and online services that can help you find the lowest price for a package you want to send.

But, again, if you’re a volume shipper, you’ll probably do better by negotiating with mailing companies.

Baughman said searching for the cheapest supplies can bring big results. She suggests looking online not just through search engines such as Google, but on EBay, where small businesses sell to other companies.


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