EBay Sellers' Misuse of USPS Supplies can Lead to Angry Customers and Fines

Misuse of USPS supplies
Misusing USPS Priority supplies is punishable by fines. GettyImages

 For many eBay sellers, a home eBay business is their first experience with any home business at all. They may not realize all the nuances and legalities involved in a home business such as tax implications or liability issues for selling recalled or defective products. One area that newer sellers often misunderstand is the use of USPS mail supplies when shipping. There are several misconceptions about the free USPS mail supplies.

All sellers should do their due diligence to understand how these free supplies are used. Misuse of USPS supplies can result in fines from the US government, as well as unhappy eBay customers and bad feedback.

USPS Priority Mail supplies are free from the post office. They may only be used for priority mail. Continued misuse may result in the post office charging for these supplies in the future. The disclaimer on every priority mail box and envelope states, 

"This packaging is the property of the united states postal service and is provided solely for use in sending priority Mail shipments. Misuse may be a violation of federal law. This packaging is not for resale."

 

USPS Priority Supplies May Not be Turned Inside Out

Oh clever eBay sellers, you aren't as clever as you think. This has been going on for years - eBay sellers thinking they can outsmart the post office by turning the free priority mail supplies inside out.

This is why the post office began stamping the inside of boxes and Tyveks on the inside - so if the box is turned inside out it is very obvious what's been done. Countless sellers still recommend to others to use this strategy for shipping items first class, parcel select, or first class international.

Just get the right supplies you need to start with. If money is tight, there are several ways to get free shipping supplies around your own community. 

Tyveks, Padded Flat Rate Envelopes, or Express Mail Envelopes Should Not be Used as Packing Material

Another common misuse of USPS supplies is using the envelopes for packing material. For example, wrapping a small breakable lightweight item in a padded flat rate envelope then putting it inside a plain poly mailer and shipping it first class. A big no-no. Using PFREs or Tyvek envelopes as dunnage or packing material for larger items in boxes is also not allowed.  Ordering or taking supplies from the post office with the intention of using as packing material is not allowed, and really not ethical. This kind of behavior is what will lead the USPS to start charging for their priority supplies.

Flat Rate Boxes and Envelopes May Not be Altered

"Frankensteining" boxes is a common practice and is allowed when using any non-flat rate box. For example, lets say a seller is shipping a lamp. The lamp is too large to fit in any size priority box. Several 8x8x12 boxes can be "telescoped," or fashioned together to make a long tubular box. This process is completely USPS legal.

Just not with flat rate boxes. Why? Because priority mail shipping charges are calculated using weight. Flat rate prices have already been calculated for that specific size box. Same situation with the padded and cardboard flat rate mailers. The item must fit inside completely and the mailers must close on its own without extra tape. 

Priority Mail Boxes Can Not be Covered in Paper 

Another big no-no. In fact, covering a box in paper is not a good idea at all because the paper can get caught in the processing machines and ripped off. The package then goes to the undeliverable package graveyard and can't be returned to the seller or delivered to the buyer because there is no information on the package. As for priority supplies, covering them in paper is a blatant attempt to circumvent paying the fees for priority mail.

Don't do it.

Fines and Unhappy Customers are the Result of Shoddy Shipping Practices

The USPS can fine customers who misuse priority mail supplies. This is clearly stated in the disclaimer on the supplies. Ok, so maybe you won't get caught when your improperly packaged item is dropped in the mail or picked up by the mail carrier, but the buyer might pay the price. When priority mail supplies are misused, the item can be delivered to the customer with postage due. The buyer will receive a notice to pick up the package at their post office, and they will be charged a fee for the upgraded postage to priority. So by taking this tacky short cut, sellers are inconveniencing buyers with a trip to the post office and requiring the buyer to pay extra to get his item. A great way to get a negative feedback and low DSRs on your eBay account. 

Bottom line - get the supplies you need ahead of time when selling on eBay. Figure out what supplies are needed when listing the item, and either order them online or go to WalMart and buy them. Being prepared is a huge part of being a successful entrepreneur.