A Funny Thing Happened Today at the Post Office Kiosk

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A Funny Thing Happened Today at the Post Office Kiosk
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If you are a seller on eBay, you have probably used it....the self-service kiosk at the US Post Office.  The device has been installed in several post offices around the country since 2004 with the intention of getting more people in and out of the post office quickly.  When used wisely, the kiosk is a wondrous and useful tool for the eBay seller.  When placed in the wrong hands, however, the kiosk can can be "ground zero" for chaos, disruption, and downright horror.  This guide is intended to provide useful tips to the kiosk user and includes a handful of comic tidbits witnessed at kiosks around the USA.  (Right now, only events witnessed (or caused) by me are included.  If you have something you would like to include, please contact me with your suggestion and I will include it giving credit where credit is due.)  I hope that you enjoy!


For anyone who has not used the kiosk, the following is a brief description of the machine and its abilities as well as "disabilities":


  • One (1) weight scale which is approximately 17-inches x 17-inches in size.
  • One (1) touch sensitive screen
  • One (1) set of numeric input keys
  • One (1) credit or debit card sliding strip
  • One (1) receipt dispenser
  • One (1) stamp dispenser

Can Do's:

  • Weigh a package or letter (up to 70-pounds)
  • Calculate the package or letter shipping cost based on the weight, destination zip code and the requested service (Express, Priority, First Class or Parcel Post)
  • Dispense the proper postage stamp based on the weight, destination zip code and the requested service (Express, Priority, First Class or Parcel Post)
  • Dispense postage for flat rate USPS priority boxes
  • Look-up zip codes 
  • Accept a credit or debit card as tender
  • Calculate and provide insurance for your package
  • Track you down if you misrepresent the plutonium you are mailing as a Fenton Art Glass Cottage Roses Stylized Cat

Won't Do's:

  • Dispense postage for packages weighing over 70-pounds
  • Accept cash as tender
  • Calculate or dispense postage for media shipping service
  • Dispense money orders

Tips For The Kiosk User

At Last We Meet 

Although the self-service kiosks have been installed to speed up postal traffic (and I mean "postal" in both senses of the word), sometimes kiosk lines are as long as the lines formed to interact with an actual flesh and blood postal worker.  As far as using the kiosk goes, sometimes getting there is half of the battle. Here are some things to remember in order to optimize your time spent in line:

  1. Do help the person in front of you at the kiosk if they are having problems operating the device for the first time.
  2. Don't curse, scream, or shoot an evil eye at the person at the kiosk if they happen to be a little slower than you are at getting the job done.
  3. Do bring a snack or a toy for your young one to enjoy, if your child is in tow.
  4. Don't try to occupy your child by challenging them to find out how many of those numbered boxes on the wall can be opened with a used lollipop stick.
  5. Do make sure that you have your reading glasses before you use the kiosk if you do need reading glasses for reading.  Kiosk text is not much more legible than any other text.
  6. Don't use the kiosk if you are legally blind...unless you have human assistance.  This statement is not meant to be insensitive, it's just a factual tip.  Unfortunately, at this time, most kiosks are not designed for the seeing impaired and the buttons are too small to be operated by seeing eye dogs.  (I just got that feeling you get when you say or type something that you know will come back later to bite you.)   However, hearing impairment will not hinder kiosk usage and on some days it may actually prove to be an asset at the post office rather than a liability.      
  7. Do mentally prepare yourself for your time to shine.  Make note of the proper zip code, whether you are about to mail dangerous substances, whether your package will fit in the drop box, and by all means....locate your debit card or credit card.  You will need all of these handy items and information when at last you approach the great "osk".
  8. Do make a mental note that the kiosk is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and next time you can perform your postal errands sometime other than rush hours.  (Typically rush hours occur from 7:30 AM until 9:00 AM, 12:00 PM until 1:00 PM, and 4:00 PM until 6:00 PM.  However, this schedule is regional and seasonal.)

Pockets Are What Separate Man/Woman From Monkey (So use those cargos like a pro!)

Unless you are a professional business woman (like me) and are forced to wear designer suit pants with no pockets, you most likely have at least one of those utilitarian devices.  Pockets are excellent receptacles for the kiosk user, both before and after the transaction.

Before:  Use your closely guarded front pocket to hold your credit or debit card while waiting to complete your transaction.  Don't fish in your purse or wallet for the appropriate tender while others wait to use the kiosk. 

After:    After your transaction, the machine will dispense your receipt and you will be required to deliberate that aged old question "to trash or not to trash?".  In some post offices, there is not a trash can conveniently placed to receive unwanted receipts or wasted postage backings.  Have you ever noticed a mountain of white crumpled paper on top or to the side of the kiosk?  Well, someone does have to clean that up!  Let's forego another postage price increase and take our waste, shove it into our pockets and then trash it elsewhere.  Feel the patriotism!

Would You Like "Letter" or "Package"?

Those people who actually mail packages probably have no doubt about whether to choose "Letter" or "Package" when prompted by the kiosk.  However, I've been asked more than once by kiosk newbies if the mail they are about to send fits into either one of those categories.  Here are some criteria to help you determine how to "identify" your mail:

  1. Letters are shipped in envelopes and normally weigh less than one (1) pound.
  2. Envelopes only have two (2) sides (front and back).
  3. Packages normally have six (6) sides (front, back, top, bottom, left side, right side) and normally weigh more than one (1) pound.

As my friend used to ask, "Why do it care?"  Well, it "do" care because your choice of "Letter" or "Package" determines what size postage will be dispensed.  Continue reading under the section "A Little Too Big For Your Britches?" for more information on postage size.   

A Note About Trading Card Packages/Letters

Many eBayers (including my husband) mail sports trading cards in very small packages that are very light.  My husband normally spends about 63 cents for every shipment.  Therefore, he was stunned when he received a package returned in the mail for insufficient postage.  Because he had purchased this postage at the kiosk, he took the package to the USPS desk to complain.  While at the desk, he was told that "letters" thicker than 3/4-inch that weigh less than one (1) ounce would be charged a supplemental charge bringing the postage requirement up to the next weight rate. 

The next time he mailed a thick letter, he tried to find a way to navigate the system to include the additional postage required for the thickness of the envelope.  The only way he could find to do this was to add more weight to the scale to bring the reading into the next weight rate.  He will continue this procedure until another means presents itself.  We buyers and sellers don't like the delay of returned merchandise.       

Need Insurance?

If your buyer requests that their item be insured, there is no need to make a special trip to a post office attendant to purchase the insurance.  Insurance can be purchased at the kiosk with or without the purchase of the postage.  During your normal kiosk transaction, you will be given a list of menu items after your item has been weighed and the zip code entered.  If you need insurance for your package, choose the menu item "Additional Service" or something to that effect.  Another list of menu items will then appear, one item being "Insurance".  When you choose "Insurance", you will then we asked to indicate the value of the item being shipped.  The kiosk will calculate the insurance cost based on the value of your item.  (Example:  Insurance for an item valued between $0 and $50 would cost $1.35.)

For additional information on obtaining and collecting on USPS insurance, please see my guide Shipping Insurance.

Flat Rate Priority Boxes

The kiosk will dispense postage for flat rate priority boxes.  The only way that I have found to do this, however, is to complete the normal transaction (including weighing of the package) up to the portion where priority mail is chosen.  You are then given two options:  "Using My Own Packaging" or "Using Priority Mail Packaging".  If you are using a flat rate box, choose priority mail packaging and then choose the latter option of a flat rate box.  The kiosk will then dispense the postage.    

The Kiosk Is Not A Gumball Machine  

If you have a small child, like I do, you know that children cannot resist grabbing things that come out of other things.  It's a true (and an often messy) fact of life and an $18 stamp dispensed from a self-service kiosk is no exception to this rule.  It took me more than once to learn to guard that little stamp dispensing hole with a well placed leg before my toddler could grab the stamp and run off with it laughing "You can't catch me!"  I would then use the equally mature retort "It's mine!  Give it here!" 

(Kiosk designers of the world, in your next invention, please put the postage label dispensing device at a height not reachable by an 18-month old and still reachable by an 80-year old.  I can't afford to buy postage twice for a 99 cent item purchased on eBay any better than I can grab a stamp with my knee.)

For The Multiple Mailers   

Like most eBay sellers, some people will mail more than one package at a time which will require several transactions.  Being a Debit Card Diva, I've been wasting my time reinserting my debit card and my pin code for every package.  Luckily, my husband pointed out that by choosing "Credit" rather than "Debit" I can forego the re-swiping of my debit card over and over again.  (Yes, you CAN choose "Credit" when using a debit card.)  The "Credit" option only requires one swipe for the first package and will retain the information for the rest of your transactions.  See, communication in a marriage IS useful!

WARNING:  It is crucial that, when using the "Credit" option, you complete all of the steps required at the kiosk.  Don't EVER walk away from this machine before you let it know you have finished the transaction.  If you don't strictly adhere to this policy, you may find a hefty shipping charge from one of your kiosk acquaintances on your next credit card or bank account statement.  (I've never heard of this happening, but I have found it wise to err on the side of caution.)  

A Little Too Big For Your Britches?  

Picture this:  You've waited in line at the kiosk for 20 minutes with your box of baseball cards.  You've inputted the destination zip code.  You've weighed the package.  You've designated that you are not shipping contraband and that your package will fit in the mail receptacle.  You've chosen your service and your shipment time length.  You've done everything right and then the kiosk flashes this honking 3" x 4" stamp on the screen and asks if it will fit on your package along with the destination and return address.  NO IT WON'T!  You are just shipping baseball cards.  ABORT!  ABORT! 

No, just relax.  If the stamp won't fit, you don't have to quit!  Be honest and say "No".  The kiosk will then print out a smaller stamp to fit on your package.  Don't try to use the big one if it is really too large.  I've seen people spend way too much time trying to strategically place the huge stamp on the package so that it will fit and then ultimately have to wrap part of the stamp around the side of the package.  (OK, I've only seen me do this, but I can't be the only one.  Right?  Oh, please say "Yes".)

Pre-eBay:  Making The Most of Your Neighborhood "Osk"   

Calculating Shipping Fee

If you love flat shipping rates, the kiosk may be the answer to your prayers.  The kiosk does have a function which allows you to pre-weigh and estimate the cost of an item before purchasing the stamp.  It will even print out a "receipt" that records the weight and shipping cost of the package.   To make the most of this ability, preselect your shipping container and place your item to be sold in the packaging.  

Then, take the package to the kiosk to weigh.  When I do this, I like to input an arbitrary zip code located on the opposite end of my shipping area.  (Caution:  Don't just pick five numbers at random.  Make sure that the zip code actually exists before performing this procedure.  If you spend all day inputting ficticious zip codes, the other kiosk patrons may collectively pay for the postage to send you to China.  The kiosk allows you to search for an appropriate zip code, so use this function if you don't already have a solid zip. )   

During the last few self-service steps, you are given the opportunity to either purchase the stamp or print a "reminder" for shipment.  Choose the latter and receive a no-cost conservative estimate for shipping charges.  Make technology work for you!

Priority Mail

Many post offices are now featuring Priority Mail shipping items near the kiosks for patron usage.  For example, the post office in my zip code makes variable weight rate priority mail boxes and flat rate priority mail boxes available at the kiosk 24/7.  They also have other items such as priority mail stickers and address labels.  These items are available free-of-charge as long as they are used for priority mail ONLY.  Using these materials can be a great way to reduce your shipping costs and shipping headaches.      

I have more tips to come and I will update soon.  I have to run now and pay homage to the Great Kiosk.           

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