Last-minute Christmas shoppers with empty pockets and only a few days to spare may decide that the U.S. Postal Service's $3 Priority Mail, as advertised, is the cheapest way to ship packages to arrive by Christmas morning.
But the ads for Priority Mail are misleading, according to the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc.
The Postal Service's Priority Mail print and television ads came to the attention of NAD through its regular monitoring program. The campaign features direct price comparisons to Federal Express and United Parcel Service delivery, in addition to a number of points of comparison among the three services.
NAD noted that the services are different in that Priority Mail is a non-tracked, non-guaranteed postal service that is delivered "on average" between two and three days. The other two services are tracked and guaranteed to be delivered in two days.
If an advertiser chooses to make a comparative claim against its competition, as the Postal Service has done, it is under an obligation, according to NAD, to disclose any and all differences between its product and the competition.
After reviewing the case, NAD found the comparative price advertising to be misleading and recommended that the U.S. Postal Service change the ads to show the differences.
The Postal Service refused to comply with NAD's recommendation and appealed the decision to the National Advertising Review Board, which is currently reviewing the case.
Roy Betts, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said he expects to see some developments in the case in the next 30 days.
"But really and truly, we think the ads are good ads," said Mr. Betts. "We think they're very positive in promoting the Priority Mail Service and that the advertising is truthful. Priority Mail is an excellent service."
Al Jackson, Postmaster in Augusta, would not comment on the Priority Mail advertising campaign.
"We try to explain to all of our customers that we guarantee our Express Mail, but not the Priority Mail," he said.
The Augusta Better Business Bureau has no record of complaints about the services provided by the local post offices.
"We have no information which would indicate that we haven't had any complaints about the local post office's services," said Jere Bennett, president of the Augusta BBB.
But the NARB might not have the final word on the issue. Federal Express, according to Mr. Betts, has brought a lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service in the Western District court of Tennessee in Memphis, where Fed Ex is based.
Post office services
The Augusta Post Office outlined the following U.S. Postal Service mail categories:
PARCEL POST: Fourth class mail. It is the cheapest available for low-merchandise shipment. The cost depends on the weight and the distance to be traveled. The U.S. Postal Service has 21 facilities around the country that are designed to handle parcel post.
PRIORITY MAIL: First-class mail for shipments over 12 ounces. It is faster than parcel post and travels by air or ground transportation. There is a Priority Mail flat-rate envelope available that customers may put as much as they can fit in the envelope, no matter what weight, for $3. Customers who choose not to use the envelope can ship up to 2 pounds for $3, 3 pounds for $4 and 5 pounds for $6.
EXPRESS MAIL: The post office's premium service. It is the only service that is guaranteed; If the delivery is not made in time, customers get their money back, no questions asked. Some shipments can be guaranteed overnight if the destination is one on the U.S. Postal Service network. The cost depends on weight, but there is an Express Mail flat rate envelope available for $15. Shipments are automatically insured up to $500 dollars.