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USPS Assignments: Are They For You?

Introduction: These shipping shops are one of the most widely talked about on the forum. Is it because they are widely available, offered frequently, can be quick, are enticing for the opportunity to be paid to mail a package with at least partial reimbursement for the shipping costs, and are very detailed? All of the above are true. Much of the discussion is about the shop requirements themselves. How much do they need to weigh? What to send and to whom? What are the differences between Scenario A, B and C? They say the devil is in the details. You can certainly say that about these shops.

What are they? The general outline of the shop and nearly all of the details for all three scenarios are the same. One can compare them to convenience store shops without a bathroom check. In those the shopper typically makes cleanliness and maintenance observations outside the store, observes promotional materials, cleanliness and merchandise inside the store, and considers the cashier’s adherence to client standards during a purchase interaction.

Post office shops follow the same the same basic outline. The difference is an increased level of complexity and detail of observations. For example, in a convenience store you might be asked if certain marketing information was present, where they were located, and if they were in good condition. For the post office you will be asked to not only observe if marketing information were present, but also where they were displayed and in relation to each other.

For example there are three types of marketing materials. First are the menu boards listing services and prices, called Continuity menu boards in USPS-speak. These must be displayed above or behind the retail counter and side by side, not on top of each other. The second type of menu boards, called Promotional menu boards, look like posters and have a designated symbol in the lower right corner. They must be displayed like Continuity menu boards.All other items that look like posters without the designated symbols are not menu boards. They are considered posters and are evaluated differently for placement.

In a convenience store you might be asked if the cashier made eye contact, smiled, and greeted you, if they were they friendly, and if they made a pleasant closing comment. For the post office you will be asked to observe all of that and more.

In addition, you need to report if the clerk asked the six hazardous material questions, if they directed you to the little screen also used for credit or debit payments called a CDU to answer those there, and if they missed any to note which were missed. Then you will document what mailing products the clerk offered and in what order.

You will document if the clerk offer details about insurance and tracking for Express mail, if they upsold insurance, what other products and services like stamps and signature required were offered and more. There are additional observations with a similar level of complexity.

The good news is the 10 pages of instructions and the questionnaire are very clear and easy to understand.

Scenario A, B and C: There are slight differences between the three, but they have about 97% the same observations. Scenarios D, E, and F are performed exactly like scenarios A, B, and C, respectively. The only difference is the latter three are assigned randomly, in addition to the normally scheduled shops.

Scenario A, aka the Regular Box Shop, is when you enter the post office with a box already prepared and mail it.

Scenario B, aka the Ready Post shop, is when you go to the post office to purchase an envelope or box (called Ready Post) and mail it. You must select an item from the Ready Post display and package the items you are mailing during your shop. It is necessary to conceal from the clerk the contents of the package so that they do not offer book rate shipping. If they do that, the clerk’s performance is compromised. I often bring my items in a plastic bag and put it all in the Ready Post envelope. The two additional observations for this shop are to document if the clerk charged you for the Ready Post item and if certain Ready Post packaging was present. Bringing packaging tape for boxes is a good idea as there is not always free packaging tape there for you. However, in my experience there are often good sized, self-sealing envelopes that obviate the need for packing tape.

Scenario C, aka the Dim Weight shop, is when you go to the post office with food for a designated food bank already packaged in a large box of specified dimensions. The key for this shop is to see if the clerk correctly identifies it as an oversized box and charges accordingly. That charge is over $30-$40. The one additional observation for this shop is to document if the clerk measures each side of the box. One challenge with this shop is when the clerk incorrectly measures the box as larger than it is, creating a shipping charge above the reimbursement amount. If the shopper documents this in the report, I have seen no problem getting full reimbursement. Additionally, forum members have reported that schedulers have given permission for shoppers to ship “C” boxes to locations of their choice. Lastly, I recommend you at least locate if not purchase box(es) of the required dimensions before accepting a “C” shop as they may not always be available in your area. Walmart, Staples, Fed-Ex, and UPS stores have been identified as possible sources.

On a personal note, I had completed perhaps 50 or so “A” shops before attempting another scenario because I was intimidated by talk on the forum about the details so much so that I did not want to climb a learning curve for another. I was wrong. I found the execution of the three scenarios are extremely similar. If you can perform one scenario, adapting to another is simple.

What to ship and to whom? Because it is possible to ship a package and not get full reimbursement, answers to these questions are intertwined in several guidelines, the weight of the package and the distance shipped. Let us first learn how not to spend your own money on these shops. I will start with minimum requirements of the shops and then move to reimbursement for shipping costs. The minimum requirements are,

  • Scenario A – to be shipped anywhere in the US that is not in same city or zip code (in Zone 0) by Priority Mail. Minimum weight 18 ounces, no maximum weight requirement,
  • Scenario B – the same as Scenario A,
  • Scenario C – to be shipped to a designated food bank by Priority Mail. Minimum weight 2.5 lbs. Maximum weight 5 lbs.

Reimbursement is for both the box purchase and shipping charge. There is an allowance for each that varies by scenario for the different types of boxes and shipping costs. When I purchase a box or Ready Post item I am sure to get it at a price under the allowance. If I purchase more than one box on one receipt for an “A” or “C” shop, I make copies of that receipt in the appropriate number and submit them accordingly. For example, if I bought four “C” boxes on one receipt, I make four digital copies of the receipt labeled “1 of 4”, “2 of 4”, etc. and submit one copy per shop. For me and others on the forum, payment has not been a problem with this submission method.

For Scenario A and B shops, shipping fees are fully reimbursed for shipments in zones 1-4 (up to about 600 miles) for packages weighing up to 2 lbs. Because Scenario C packages are to a designated location, there is no option that cannot get you full reimbursement as long as the shop is performed correctly. If you want a detailed explanation of the nine zones it can be found here, http://pe.usps.com/Archive/HTML/DMMArchive0810/G030.htm. Better to just use the zone calculator to determine the zone of your shipment, http://postcalc.usps.gov/zonecharts/. For Scenario A and B packages shipped farther than zone 4 (about 600 miles) or weighing more than 2 lbs, you will get paid, just not collect full reimbursement.

Simply put, if I ship an A or B package weighing between 18 ounces and 2 lbs from Rhode Island to Virginia (zone 4) I will get full shipping cost reimbursement. If I ship a package over 2 lbs to Virginia (zone 4), or any weight to Florida (zone 6), I will not be fully reimbursed. For Scenario C, I ship it where they tell me and get fully reimbursed. Now on to the fun part, who gets it.

A family member or friend may have a birthday, could use a care package, or needs something sent to them. You return a broken item to a company to be fixed or ship items sold on your Ebay business. You could ship old books to a nursing home. Recycling items that cannot be taken to your local recycling centers can be mailed to places out of your area. If you don’t have anyone, a post office buddy can be found on the forum. Shoppers can agree to send items back and forth. Those items often are the same worthless items like old magazines, papers, or expired cake mixes. Some of those items get around more than I do. You can even mail packages to yourself. If you choose this option, remember the destination must be outside the mailing city and zip code and you must use a return address on the package. The destination and return address details should not be the same to avoid a sharp-witted clerk noticing that detail.

How to score 10s – I have done this by focusing on the details of the clerk interactions without regard to “yes” or “no” answers. I give a narrative from greeting, or lack thereof, to closing comment and everything in between. The items the clerk mentions or misses are detailed in the narrative. Any lobby assistance is detailed. With more than 130 shops behind me, it takes about 20-25 minutes for an entire report.

Variations: There are USPS competitor shops and recently introduced shops in partner stores like Staples that offer USPS shipping. The latter shops test if employee are asking the hazardous material questions and responding properly. I have performed the USPS competitor shops at places like Fed-Ex and UPS. These have basically the same observations in a store that does not follow the USPS policies. It was easier because there was less to observe. It was more cumbersome in writing the report with many “No” answers that needed to be explained in the narrative. The good part was that you could ship more weight farther than the USPS shops and still get full reimbursement. Forum members report the second variation to be easier than normal USPS shops.

In conclusion: I started with these shops because I wanted to cut costs on a number of items to ship. When those were done, I found myself over the hump of the steep learning curve and was agreeable to doing more. With shops as quick as four to six minutes on-site when there is no line, I found I could often fit these shops into a route.

As quick as they may be, I find them to be most challenging when you walk into an otherwise empty post office and the clerk immediately greets you and is ready to serve you. Now, I need my A-game to simultaneously engage in a conversation with the clerk, remember all the details of what the clerk offers and in which order, and also look around the post office for signage and other things. It is easier to first have time in line to make some observations. My experience of around 130 shops without a rejection allows me to multitask smoothly, but with not without concentrated effort. Therefore, despite the fact I know these instructions extremely well and the shops may go quickly, I will not call them easy. Additionally, at bonus time I sometime start a route with several of them. Regarding the instructions, let me restate they are clear and easy to read. If something is not clear for you, ask your scheduler or forum members for help. Another tip I have is the next time you do a USPS shop you will have the opportunity to download instructions for not just your scenario but all three. Download the one you need and the other two for future reference.

Are these detail intense USPS shops for you? I believe it depends on your needs. If you just want to do one or two, the steep learning curve probably makes it more effort than it is worth. If you have the opportunity to do them regularly in your area, it is easier to justify the time spent learning and bonuses can help. If you have some something to mail, they become financially more rewarding in that the reimbursed box and shipping costs put more money in your pocket because you were going to spend that money anyway. In addition, shoppers have come up with some incredibly inventive ways of using these shops to help themselves and others.

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