Friday, March 23, 2012

Still Life With Robin: Sending a 3-Ounce Parcel to France, Part Deux

by Peggy Robin

Last week I complained about how long I had to spend in line at the Post Office (and much of that time spent in the wrong line, to boot) in my quest to mail a small 3-ounce package to France. It should be possible to go to the USPS website and print out postage to mail a parcel to France, print out a customs form online, and avoid the line altogether, I opined (or whined, depending on how you take my tone).

A couple of helpful members of the Cleveland Park Listserv wrote back to say that I could have done exactly that. Now I realize that I'm not exactly the most web-savvy person on the internet, but on the other hand, I think I’m at least as good as the average consumer in my demographic -- that is, someone who grew up in the pre-digital Dark Ages. I order things on websites all the time and seldom have any problems. I pay most of my bills online, too. So I found myself wondering if the fault was with me or with the design of the USPS web site, for my inability to find the proper forms to complete the package prep at home.

So I went back to the USPS web site and went through all the steps, which are as follows: 

Starting  at the “calculate shipping” page of

1. - select destination “France”.

2. Look over the 14 (yes, 14!) USPS flat-rate box options.

3.- 19. After viewing the first page showing six options, you need to click on “more” to see the next six, followed by another click to get to the last two, and then you need to click on each one individually to read about the specifications and cost for that method of shipping.

20. After rejecting all the flat rate options as hugely overpriced (from a low of $16.95 to a high of $74.95), click to move on to the two self-boxed options, small or large  (small size means no dimension is over 12 inches; large size has at least one dimension over 12 inches).

21. Choose the smaller sized self-boxed option .

22. Fill in the weight of package as 0 pounds, 3 ounces.

23. Look over the three options visisble on that page, with explanations and prices ranging from $75 to $52 to  $38 (which are not shown in either ascending or descending order) and reject all three as overpriced, no better than the previous 14 options provided.

24. Eventually notice that if you scroll down the page, beyond what is visible, you will find two more options in much smaller type, the first marked “Priority Mail” and the second, “First Class Mail” -- but without explanations or graphics. (In other words, they are close to invisible, compared to all the preceding options.)

25. Click on Priority Mail to expand the information shown and see the price range (still way up there), and then move on to …

26. First Class Mail - select and hit "continue" to read about sending a small package to France by first class mail.

27. Finally! The “Customs Form and Extra Services” button is displayed -- although you need to click on a link to an explanation of the customs form, to find out that the customs form is a prerequisite for any package sent abroad. Click on that button.

28. Fill in the web form with name and address of recipient and sender. Click on “continue.”

29. Choose value less than $2500 and fill in weight (again!) and describe item from pulldown menu (from choices such as “sample” or “gift” or “merchandise”).

30. Fill in the free-form text box with a more precise description of the item, and fill in the weight for the third time, and provide the item’s value in dollars -- without the dollar sign (as the form says that in teensy-tiny type below). Note: If you make a mistake and type in the dollar sign, and try to click to go to the next page, you will be stopped, have to figure out your error, correct it, and try again.

31. Move to next screen showing the customs form that you can print out. Review it and click on “generate form 2976.”

32. Now click on the underlined “pdf” (in very small letters) to print the form. Click on information links to read about any other forms you may possibly need (but won't know it until you read about each one).

33. Print, sign and date the form. Click on “continue.”

34. Here are your instructions for what to do with the printed form:  “The following form you will need to print, sign and take to your Post Office™”  This was copied straight from the website.

In other words, after all 34 steps, you still have to go to the Post Office, wait in line, and hand the package over to a postal clerk. AAAGGggghhh! If it is indeed possible to drop the package into a mailbox or have it picked up by the carrier --as two different listserv members advised me earlier-- it does not tell you that anywhere along the line.

Here’s how it should work in a consumer-friendly world. You would type “Send small parcel to France by USPS” into the Google search bar, and the first thing to come up would be the page on with an overview of the options, price ranges, and prerequisites for sending parcels abroad,  in order of cheapest to most expensive. The customs form would be mentioned in the very first paragraph. If you can do the whole thing online, it would say so upfront, but if you really do have to take get yourself to the nearest Post Office and hand the thing over to a postal clerk, then there would be a “Caution” label in red across the top of the page, which would say something like this:

“Consumer Advisory! Since you are going to have to make a trip to the Post Office as the last step in the process of mailing a parcel overseas, you might as well have the clerk help you prepare the package for shipping and make sure you've filled out all the forms properly. Unless you have done this before and know what you are doing, it will be a whole lot faster to work with an experienced clerk than to try to figure it out yourself by reading the many steps that are to come on this web site.”


Still Life With Robin is published on the  Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Fridays. Your comments are welcome below. 

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