USPS Cracks Down on Online-Generated Postage Dates

Like other small business owners, I’ve learned to expect three things from the United States Postal Service:

  1. A 5-15 minute wait in line
  2. Useless tracking information, and a complete lack of help when packages do get lost (about 1 in every 500!)
  3. Incompetence of approximately half of all postal employees (figure worsens when handed international packages…)

Even customers know better than to expect tracking information for USPS First Class and Priority Mail packages—this luxury only comes from UPS, FedEx, etc. The USPS cannot afford to replace their practically useless Delivery Confirmation service with an actual tracking system. Nor do they have the resources to develop an API that would allow businesses to automate shipments (like UPS/FedEx). There’s a single reason I stick with the USPS: Unmatched prices. However, the USPS is in financial trouble (and has been for years). Given the Great Recession, combined with ever increasing competition from alternative shipping carriers, I’d hoped that the USPS would finally step into the 21st Century, technologically. This has not been the case.

Last Monday, I stepped into a local post office and handed 6 postage-paid, domestic packages to the postal clerk. She looked over each, then stated, “These 5 cannot be shipped. They have the wrong date.”

As usual, I’d used PayPal’s Multi-Order Shipping tool to print out orders on Sunday evening. ‘The date is no problem,’ I said confidently. ‘I’ve been doing this for three years. The date is meaningless, but if you insist, I can mark out Sunday’s dateĀ  and write in today’s date by hand.’ I picked up the pen on the counter and proceeded to change 6/6/10 to 6/7/10 on each of the rejected packages.

“Let me get the postmaster,” she replied.

The postmaster stepped up and had made up her mind before even looking at my packages. She handed me a clearly unofficial document which read:

“Accepting packages that have stale ship dates on them could affect our delivery scores. This information from explains the correct process. The same policy would be in place for other pcpostage labels such as paypal,,, etc.

You must mail your item on the date that you selected for your Click-N-Ship label; this is known as the Ship Date. An electronic record is generated on that date indicating that your mail piece has been mailed. Packages shipped with labels that have incorrect Ship Dates will be returned to the sender and will not be eligible for a refund. If you are unable to use the label, you should request a refund within ten (10) days of the printed label and create another label with the correct Ship Date.

Your online label can be used only as it has been printed, without any alterations. If you find an error in your label, print a new label with the correct information and request a refund. Any mail piece which has a manually altered online label will be returned.”

I argued for another minute before leaving. As I made my way out, the poor postal clerk quietly told me that it was a “new policy” of “cracking down on Click-N-Ship labels”. Technically, nothing had changed; USPS’s shipping requirements have always stated that packages must be shipped on the day for which they are printed. While PayPal’s Multi-Order shipping system allows selection of the “Mailing Date”, it is obvious that labels postmarked on Sunday cannot possibly be shipped until Monday. For the past three years, postal employees and postmasters have told me, assuredly, that this was not a problem. And it hadn’t been, until last week.

PayPal Multi-Order Shipping "Mailing Date" Selection
Proper Selection of Mailing Date (PayPal)

Outraged, I drove home and immediately Google’d the document. Nothing came up, so I called 1-800-ASK-USPS to get to the bottom of the issue. I was told that it was indeed a recent change, and that I was correct: USPS made NO ANNOUNCEMENT WHATSOEVER of their changed policy. Why not? Well, it isn’t a change—they are suddenly enforcing a rule that has always been in effect. The guy further stated, “I don’t like the change either, and they really should have made an announcement.”

The next day, I went to a different local post office. None of the clerks had seen the unofficial document (although they were aware of the new policy), so I asked to speak with their postmaster. This fellow was quite helpful; he furnished the following e-mail printout, dated April 28, 2010:

Internal USPS E-Mail, Subject: FW: Stale pcPostage dates

After a lengthy discussion with the postmaster, a self-described “postal nerd”, it was clear that the USPS is just trying to survive. They’re losing money, customers are displeased with Delivery Confirmation, and of course, USPS also gets blamed when some businesses print out labels several days before actually dropping them off. Thus, the USPS has decided to reject all packages with “stale ship dates” in effort to improve public opinion.

I have several problems with this:

  1. Up until April 28, 2010, the USPS didn’t care when I dropped off my packages. USPS should have made an official announcement. Factoring in labor, my business lost over $200 last week due to USPS’s failure to communicate. More disturbingly, my customers experienced a 1 day delay in shipping—we pride ourselves on same-day shipments.
  2. USPS knows that labels printed online are rarely shipped the day they are marked. Anyone who has checked the Delivery Confirmation number of a freshly prepared shipment has seen this blurb from’s tracking system:

    Label/Receipt Number: #### #### #### #### #### ##
    Status: Electronic Shipping Info Received

    The U.S. Postal Service was electronically notified by the shipper on June ##, 2010 to expect your package for mailing. This does not indicate receipt by the USPS or the actual mailing date. Delivery status information will be provided if / when available. No further information is available for this item

    This statement has served its job well enough for years. Does USPS really expect to increase customer satisfaction by suddenly refusing their packages?

  3. USPS is built upon the principle that postage is as good as currency. A 44 cent stamp is worth always 44 cents, regardless of the day or the year. Until recently, USPS had maintained this perspective for postage printed online: Labels printed for $2.09 on Sunday were perfectly valid no matter the calendar date. But this is apparently no longer true. On very rare occasion, traffic has prevented me from making my daily post office visit in time. When this happens, I’d toss the packages into the drop-box instead. Now, I can no longer use drop-boxes after hours! I must cancel and re-print the shipping labels, then explain to customers why they have just received a shipment cancellation and 2nd shipment notice. And my poor accountant! All in all, this could cost my small business thousands of dollars in labor.

  4. Historically, USPS’s instructions mandated that online labels be used “only as it has been printed, without any alterations” because the digital barcode tells the postal system where the package is headed. A computer will ignore handwritten address changes on a digital label. The computer does not care when the label was printed. It only cares where the package is going. Hence, the “Electronic Shipping Info Received” statement cited above. In other words, USPS has deceptively manipulated an old policy in attempt to combat financial losses. Way to go, USPS.

In conclusion, USPS has made another poor choice and will continue to lose money and business. If they really wished to improve customer satisfaction, they would take example from UPS and FedEx: Customers want fine, friendly service, and REAL tracking information. Then this whole issue would be a moot point, since it would be clear when a package was physically accepted by the post office. But alas, the USPS is a federal entity and is not bound to the same expectations as a capitalistic business…

Anyway, fellow users of should be aware that USPS has begun looking at the printed date on internet shipping labels, so you better get it right.

100 thoughts on “USPS Cracks Down on Online-Generated Postage Dates”

  1. Dude, you’re not being truthful to your ebay customers. You can’t print a label on eBay to show your customer you are going to mail it out the same day and not mail it in fact until the next day. The post office is correct…you are putting the blame on them for taking one extra day when it is you who do not put it in the same day. Further I understand why you are doing this because eBay give sellers discounts & preferential treatment (to include priority search listings) when they get items out very quickly. You can’t scam the system to show eBay you have uploaded tracking and say it is going out the same day and then not mail it out until the next day.

    You’re caught dude admit it.

    Yours Truly,
    A trusted 100% SATISFACTION ebay seller for 15 years with 900 feedback!

    1. Wow, you have a whole 900 feedback in 15 years and want to be a douche and act like you actually have a business? Hahahaha…. For anyone REAL business person who sells online, it is common, in fact, dare I say it, the majority of the time true that with warehouse processing that items are not picked up by USPS/UPS/FEDEX until the following “business day.”

    2. Its a SUNDAY that she printed the labels…There is NO SHIPPING on Sunday. Well at least no pickup.

      Look it it like this. I print out labels on Thursday afternoon and some times I dont even see a scan for 24 hours.

      Or I print out a label on Thursday at 11pm and drop it off on Friday at 9am.

      That is NOT being untruthful.

  2. Im disabled and can’t get to the post office so I order small flat rate boxes and print my labels. I leave the boxes in my mailbox to be pick up by our daily courier. If he doesn’t show Im out the postage. On a fixed income so this sucks and btw they NEVER answer the phone when you call.

    1. You simply CANCEL the postage you paid for, and wait 3 weeks for a USPS refund. OF course you have to purchase a second label for the package for the next day.

  3. I been selling on Ebay for a while and now have an online boutique, I have over 200 orders sometimes and I have to print my labels ahead and then package afterwards. It takes me 3 to 4 days to package because I have other things to deal with (Kids, etc.) But I get my things together and done and ship it out asap. Today my husband dropped off 200 plus orders at the Post office and the lady said we couldn’t be shipping out packages that are 3 days late on the date. He explained that we have been doing it for a year and half and never knew it was wrong to do so. So I called customer service immediately after that to confirm and what I was told was that if I printed out a label and did not ship on that day but waited three days it would be rejected. I asked if it was rejected would I get my refund and the lady said yes I would and all I have to do is go back on my click N ship account and change the date. I have no clue how to do that after you have already paid for the postage. I am currently using ship station right now and I don’t see the option where you can choose the delivery date. I think USPS will definitely lose a lot of business over this new change. It’s ridiculous, because refund takes over 2-3 weeks yet we have to purchase a new label right away. I even had missing packages that disappeared during delivery and had to refund my customers but could not get a refund from USPS because the item was only first class.

    1. BRK is a doosh, and probobaly is a federal employee..the po deserves to just go , all the inept workers loose there jobs.these polocies are rediculois for the small business , no real business would make this new rule, impossible for Elle above with 200 packages..only the goverment ideotics would make more problems instead of fixing a problem.Pathetic

    2. Hey, change your procedure then and dont print labels first. Print them WHEN YOUR READY TO SHIP and not before.

      Dont blame others for your ineffective procedures.

  4. Wow…Your complaining about the USPS not being good communicator while you are LYING to your buyers and not shipping on the day that you said you would…YOU cost your company $200, not the USPS…


    1. People like you have to be trolling, that or you work for USPS. One day later is no big deal. Sometimes I accidentally forget to change the date to the next day when printing. Who cares?

    2. You’re an idiot who cannot read.

      You can print a label on Saturday night or Sunday, and not have it picked up until Monday.

      If the post office doesn’t want stale dates then they shouldn’t allow postage to be printed on weekends. They partner with ebay on this, but of course, one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing

      1. Weekends or after hours.

        I just printed two labels at 100 pm and noticed they had today date. Ill drop them off tomorrow morning hopefully with no problems. My local postal employees are cool so hopefully they wont notice the date.

  5. Yes, they’re now enforcing the stale shipping date here in NY, too.
    So, how does that work for priority pick-ups?
    We have to print out the label first, then have it picked up the next day. Are they going to reject it or break their own rules?
    Secondly, first class mail may have seen a reduction, but first class packages have picked up the baton on that one. Plenty of income being produced for package services. Still in the red? pfft.
    Thirdly, why are we not being given a receipt for prepaid dropped off packages any longer? What proof do I have that the post office received it, yet along delivered it?
    (I’ve had plenty of packages evaporate within the postal system, luckily, some of them were insured.)
    I want a receipt. I waited in line to drop them off and I want proof.
    Lastly, why does it take the post office up to 21 days to issue a refund for a canceled label? It sure didn’t take them 21 days to debit my a/c. Decrease the waiting time for a refund.
    Until I think of more, (or things change) I remain,

    1. Eileen,
      If your pick up (or drop off) date is the next day, then you need to post-date your labels to match. Your shipping software should have an option to select the postmark date you want used when you print. (It’s the same as if you used a physical postage meter, which the USPS has always been strict about.)

      As for a receipt, just ask the postal clerk for an origin scan when you drop the package off. This will record the drop-off in online tracking, which serves as proof of mailing. It also keeps your customers happy, since it guarantees online tracking will show _something_ before delivery. (The USPS has been getting much better at providing tracking en-route, but I’ve found it varies based on where you’re mailing to.) I’ve never had a clerk refuse to do an origin scan when asked nicely.

      Alternatively, if you have a lot of packages, your shipping software should be able to create a SCAN form, containing all of your packages under a single barcode. The post office is required to scan and postmark this form, if you have it. (Sadly, you can’t create a SCAN form using the USPS website. You need third-party software for this.)

      As for why refunds take so long: My theory is it’s precisely because the USPS is inconsistent about scanning packages, so they need to wait a while to make sure the package doesn’t show up somewhere in the system before they issue the refund. Three weeks is long enough for even the slowest packages to get delivered.

  6. The USPS is also cracking down on “Media Mail”. It seems like it’s less cost-effective to have employees going through peoples mail rather than just sending it. Does it really cost USPS more money to send a post it with a book than just a book. What they should do is charge companies like capital one who send advertisements every other week. Junk Mailers are the ones they should be cracking down on.

  7. Well here is a problem. I am trying to get a visa application shipped out and in order to get my visa back I have to send with my application a prepaid package with my address on it for the return. HOW am I suppose to buy a prepaid envelope with USPS when I have no idea when the consulate is going to be shipping it back to me and USPS will ONLY accept it on the designated ship date? Also, you can only choose a ship date online which is 4 days out? Lame.

    1. Leah,
      Just use stamps. They don’t have an expiration date.

      Alternatively, if you need an odd-denomination label, just use the APC machine in the post office’s lobby. The postage labels generated by those are treated as stamps rather than meters, so they don’t expire.

  8. You are exactly right! The USPS could easily solve this problem by simply tracking when a package is dropped off. This is what UPS and Fedex do. It does not matter when you say you are going to mail it, only when you actually do. As long as you are competent enough to know the difference and to actually track a package, it’s a no-brainer.

    I tried to argue with my Postmaster about this, but her argument is that the printed date is a legal postmark that officially declares when it was mailed. Um, no it’s not. It’s an electronic postage printing date. The postmark is the stamp that is placed on mail when it is actually received AT the post office. It’s electronic equivalent is an acceptance scan. Don’t they always scan packages or not? If not, they should. If so, why doesn’t it count? Does the information go into a black hole?

    Only one of our local post offices actually enforces this policy, so I then have to drive to another to get it accepted. They don’t care at all.

    I’ve also had the problem of getting rejected if the origin zip code is different from the post office zip code where I drop off. I have several equally-inconvenient post offices near me, so I use the one that I happen to be closest to. Apparently, this is a problem with one of them since they say they get no “credit” for accepting a package that does not have their zip code on it. Come on, what kind of company makes internal stats more of a priority over customer satisfaction? And again, why can’t they track where it was actually mailed instead of the zip code on the package. We’re only talking about adjacent post offices, not a zip code across the country.

    Come on USPS, get your sh*t together!

  9. This, as well as refusing packages where the shipping zip is for a near by post office, is NOT official policy. When you are presented with memos, or worse yet, an article in the postal bulletin, just say “show me where this is stated in the DMM”. If it is not in the DMM, they cannot enforce it. In fact, when they have the DMM out, have them refer to part 604 section 4.5.1. Then say “In your face!”

    1. Also, if the customer satisfaction rating system is flawed in that it rates the performance based on the print date, the proper solution is to FIX the rating system, not to create an unofficial policy that effectively decreases customer satisfaction. Whoever drafted that memo should be FIRED along with half the staff of the bulletin.

    2. Thanks much Rob for that solid info… I read the DMM for the regulation you mention – wow, PC printed postage has an exception for the correction required on other labels – no date correction required.

  10. Glad I came across this article. I also have this problem with my local post office, I dropped off my packages same day of shipping and they are now charging customer for Shipping. Postal manager never scanned my items.

  11. @Leah When dealing with a SSE (Self Stamped Envelope), the stamp does not have a date on them. You can ask your postal employee that you want a stamped envelope when you cash out, it is a normal stamp.
    As for the rest of you, it does not take that much time to change a date on the postage before you print it. If some one buys your product on a Saturday after 4pm and you know Monday is a holiday change the date so that it says Tuesday delivery date.
    Quit being lazy and lie about your delivery time, for now tracking with USPS tells the customer exactly when you took it to the post office. You can post your policy that you are the next day shipper, print out a lable and same day and then sit on it of a few days does not mean that you shipped the next day. I know that you would not like that to happen to you or your business if your supplier said next day shipping but does not ship it until three days later and at a cheaper postage than that to which you paid for.
    Be honest with yourself and your customers and you too could help the post office with their mailing edicate.

  12. Great article! This just happened to me today :( they stated it can’t be accepted in the post office, they give a “grace” period of 1 day and then you’re on your own. However, she did inform me that it can be placed in a USPS Dropbox with a late date. I’m not going to chance it though. Now I have to waste paper… Harm the evmt, rip off the label in hopes it doesn’t ruin the package.. Which I’m sure they’d love so that I’d have to purchase a new one. Yippie!

    Thanks again. Your post enlightened me more than they have

  13. All my packages get shipped on the ship date or maybe a day or two early or late. My PO doesn’t care. In the origin ZIP I always put the ZIP of my NDC as it is 20 mins from my PO. I get an earlier tracking update at the NDC or the plant than from the PO.

  14. If you go to the post office and ask to mail forms maybe 40 pages first class is the clerk allowed to give you a large envelope with a postage paid label printed on it and you can exit the building with it and mail it on your own later

  15. I have had so many problems with click and ship. I sent out an average of 425 packages every month and twice that in November and December. I have problems with payments no matter the browser. I have problems with getting that many scanned in at the local post office, so they are in limbo until they are scanned somewhere. Getting a refund is like pulling teeth. i am printing labels from 1-5pm4-5 days a week. Sometimes after a few hours the delivery date changes even though it will still say 2 day priority. I have no problem with that as long as my clients get the product on the date I started with. Sometimes I will print labels and the pre shipment info will be sent to the post office 24 hours later. Reluctantly it is still cheaper than the other carriers for now. If I get anymore customer complaints, I will consider going back to UPS.

  16. I sell on ebay as well. Today I have no idea why two packages were not picked up, there was a paper with a bar code on it left, so I assumed it’s because I put tape over most of the bar code, as well as over the deliv. conf. number, because I use plain paper and if rain gets onto it, then it would make the printer’s ink run and then be unreadable. As far as the shipping date on the packages, you can print out ahead of time and just choose the shipping date to be the next day or whenever you plan to ship out. Anyway, you’ve helped me to know that I have to reprint new deliv. conf. numbers for my packages and not just put them out again with reprinted today’s numbers. I have to cancel those and buy new ones for each package. They used to ship yesterdays today if I left them out. Blessings on everybody’s businesses that are represented here in this blog and thanks for the article, it’s comforting to see none of us are alone in any of these things, there are others who experience similar things. I wish everyone better and the best with it all though! :+)

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