“ Royal Mail online postage services. „
~Why I started Printing Postage~
In the early days of the internet pundits predicted that online communication would soon make the postal service obsolete and put hundreds of posties on the breadline. They were wrong. True enough we largely stopped writing letters - but we soon learned about the delights of shopping online and in no time at all, most of the postal delivery people were running up and down our streets laden with Amazon parcels and delivering Lovefilm DVDs. And eBay soon had the postal vans filled with all sorts of tat that used to go to the tip. The postal service is alive and thriving thanks to e-commerce.
My particular 'thing' for keeping the Royal Mail busy is my book addiction. It was getting out of control and all hope of ever being able to find a particular book was long lost because they were just piling up all over the house. I decided to do something about it, had a major sort out and identified hundreds I no longer needed or wanted. The fat books and hardbacks went to the local hospice shop and the thinner paperbacks went onto the book swapping site 'Readitswapit.co.uk' In no time I was swapping books which was fun, and trotting off to the post office to send them, which wasn't. I soon realised that the sheer drag of getting to the post office (or bribing my husband to do so) was jeopardising my commitment to clearing out the unwanted books. The lady behind the counter in our village post office is a bit of a nosey woman who's prone to asking people what's in their parcels. Rather than asking "Is there anything valuable?" she sometimes comes straight out and asks what's inside. My husband once told her that one box contained dirty magazines (it didn't) and that a parcel intended for Bridgend, suicide capital of south Wales, contained 'a noose and some razor blades'. After the whole queue laughed she learned to mind her own business next time.
I soon started to spot that books coming to me from other Readitswapit members were arriving with self-printed postage labels and so I investigated how this was done and soon learned about the Royal Mail's website and its facility to print postage on line. Suddenly there was hope on the horizon. I wouldn't have to go to the post office and deal with the notoriously grumpy counter staff; all I had to do was set up an account and print my own labels then drop the parcels in the nearest post box or hand them to reception at work to put them in the collection bag. Even if you do have to take your parcels to the post office - for example because they are too big for the post box - and still have to wait in the line, at least when you get to the front, all you have to do is hand them over. So no more evil looks from the lady at the counter as the line behind you grows longer and longer and she starts to 'tut' and make suggestions about coming back when they are less busy. As that meerkat on the telly likes to tell us "Simples".
~Let's get Personal~
The 'Print Postage Online' function for customers who don't have business accounts can be found on the www.royalmail.com website in the section for 'Personal Customers'. There are other options for small and larger business accounts but for the person in the street who is just looking for an easy way to send out a few letters or parcels a week, the Personal Customers section is the one you need.
After clicking through to this section you will find a series of red boxes on the right side of the page under the TOOLS menu. These options are 'Postcode Finder' 'Price Finder', 'Print Postage Online' and 'Find Your Nearest Post Office'. Click 'Print Postage Online' and just follow the arrows and links. I'm not going to talk you through the process in too much detail (click here, move mouse there, argggghhhhhh) because the system is well designed and most of it is pretty idiot proof - but there are a few steps that need a bit more information to avoid problems.
I have a fear of putting sticky labels through my printer. It's probably unfounded but you only need your printer to get gummed up by a label that peels itself off and jams everything once to know that you wouldn't risk it again. Fortunately you don't have to have sticky labels in order to print postage - you can just print onto regular paper, cut to size and stick onto your parcel with sticky tape. Take care to not use water soluble inks as you really don't want to print labels that run when the postie is delivering in the rain.
There's no need to download anything but you will need to set up an account which takes just a few minutes and if you will use the system frequently especially for low value items, it's worth loading some credit onto your account as the pay-as-you-go credit card option is only available on parcels over a certain sum - I think it's around £3.00. For smaller amounts you need to buy some postage credit and charge your mail against that. I'd advise to start with a small amount - say £5 to £10 just in case for any reason you can't get the hang of the system. I now load £30 to £50 at a time so I don't have to think about it too often.
Functionality includes an address book for storing the addresses you use most often, and if you are inclined you can personalise your labels with logos, slogans and your return address. I haven't previously used a slogan but am going to update my settings to use my labels to advertise a literacy charity which I support - after all, it's costing me nothing to spread the word.
If you want to check prices before you start printing, there are links to the pricing pages which are very helpful, especially after Royal Mail's introduction of horribly annoying pricing structures based on the size and thickness of your package which have caught a lot of people out. These are often poorly applied at the Post Office and you can save a small fortune by being aware of the rules and by specifying that you want the cheaper 'large letter' postage when a lot of Post Office counter assistants seem to be set to a default of selling you the package rates.
Basically a letter is something up to 240 mm long, 165 mm wide and a meagre 5 mm thick. It's now well worth folding a large envelope in order to avoid higher prices if you can stay under the thickness rule. Since books are the main thing I post, the critical measurement for me is the thickness of the parcel. If it's less than 25mm (an inch in old money) you can usually send it as a 'large letter' for just over half the cost of sending a 'packet'. This can quickly add up to a substantial saving and I long gave up on recycling old jiffy bags in favour of buying ultra-thin and very light mailing bags. As an example a 250g parcel that's under 25mm costs 92p second class or £1.09 first class - by contrast one over 250g costs £1.72 second class or £1.96 for first class. My mailing bags cost less than 10p each so the postage cost saving pays for the bags and still leaves me ahead of the game. Prices online are exactly the same as if you go to the Post Office.
~Ready to go?~
You'll need your parcel and some accurate kitchen scales. Mine go to the nearest gram but most which go to the nearest 5 g will probably be OK. Check the weight before you start. If you are sending several parcels, you might want to write the name or postcode on the envelop or bag before you start so you don't get muddled and have to keep opening them again to check you got the right book in the right bag.
Follow the links and arrows to the 'easy start' page where you click 'get started'. On the next screen you can choose whether to print a label, an envelop or onto normal standard printer paper. Common envelope sizes are listed and if you want to print labels, you can choose the size and indicate which label on a multi-label sheet you want to print. With standard A4 paper you can choose between whole sheet, half sheet and quarter sheet. I usually go with the smallest as this fits my mailing bags best. On the address screen enter the name of the person you want to post to and their post code - you can then pull up all the options for that post code automatically. At times if you have a long address - for example a unit in an industrial estate - you may have to find a way to combine lines in order to get the address to fit on the limited number of lines. On this screen you can also pull up an address you have previously stored in your address book.
Next you need to choose the type of postage you want. Firstly the destination country, give the weight of the item (I use my kitchen scales) and then the size format - letter, large letter, packet etc. If you aren't sure whether it's a large letter or a packet, you can enter the dimensions of the parcel and the system will work it out for you. You can also choose 'extras' such as insurance ('additional compensation'), fast drop (a system where you drop at the post office and they email you and the recipient to confirm that the parcel has been sent), 'guaranteed delivery' before 1 pm the next day, 'signed for' which was previously known as 'recorded delivery' or 'track and trace'. With the exception of 'fast drop' these come at an extra charge. Our local post office accepts Fast Drop but doesn't have a dedicated counter so I don't see too much advantage in using it when I'm mostly sending low value second hand books which fit in the local letterbox. If I were selling eBay items and wanted proof of postage or larger items that don't fit in the box, I would think again about doing Fast Drop since it's a more 'provable' form of postage than that offered by my local post office counter service who tend to just stick the post code on the bottom of a receipt. You will need to have the email address of the recipient in order to use Fast Drop and you'll have to go to the post office. The next screen will give you the price of all the different posting options - just choose the one you want and then the screen will show you a picture of your label. On this screen you can add a logo or a slogan, your return address and if you forgot to do Fast Drop earlier, you can add it here. When all is fine and you're happy with your label, just click add to basket.
At this point you can either pay or add another label or envelop by repeating the process again. Once all the postage is in your 'basket' you pay for it - either using your pre-loaded credit or if it's above the threshold for credit or debit card payment you can choose that option. Once the postage is paid for, it's just a matter of printing off the label.
~WARNING - THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT~
When you click to print the label, the mock up of the label comes up on the screen with 'sample' written across the page. If you are printing from Firefox or Internet Explorer, this disappears when you print. I normally use Google Chrome and it doesn't work at all - instead you get a label with SAMPLE written across the middle which is intensely irritating and totally useless. At my first attempt I couldn't get round the problem and had to apply for my money back. I only managed to find out through the Readitswapit forum that this was a recognised problem. I switched to doing my postage in Firefox and now it works just fine. I don't know if they've fixed the Google Chrome problem (please add a comment if you have more info) because I don't want to risk getting it wrong again.
Once the label is printed you have until the last post on the following day to get your letter or parcel into the post box. If for any reason you miss that deadline, as I did when I tried to post a book from the airport and fell foul of the blocked up postage slots, you simply apply for your money back. Up to now I've done 5 or 6 applications for credit and they've all been processed quickly and without any fuss.
If you send a lot of parcels or letters that get more complicated than a simple first class stamp, do consider using Print Postage Online. The flexibility that it gives you to arrange your postage at times that suit you and to avoid getting evil glares off the ladies in the post office are worth their weight in gold. Whilst I've not yet used the fast drop service, it does seem to solve the issues around 'proof of postage' which put a lot of people off at first, and it's very handy to be able to control your postage in a way that can be difficult if you get to the counter and get flustered by an assistant who wants to sell you the more expensive options that you don't really want. Once you get the hang of printing your own, you'll find it difficult to go back and do it the old way.