The postal rate increase that kicks in on Monday is shaping up to be a big headache for many businesses because for the first time, the U.S. Postal Service will be charging by the shape of the mail.
Many companies say they are both 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.
Dave Partenheimer, a spokesman for the Postal Service, said it takes more effort to process a larger piece of mail and that's why the new rates take into account the mail's shape.
"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.
Her office considered using a card slot where envelopes are pushed through to measure thickness but in the end decided to use a postage machine that would measure the thickness automatically.
"Having the secretary stand there and manually stick envelopes through a card would be insane. It would take so much time," Golebiewski 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."
It's for standard mail that has "parcel-like characteristics," Partenheimer said.
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.
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 knowing how to handle 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.