Send Those Lines Packing

It’s easy to skip the long post office lines and use the automated mailing center insteadSend Those Lines PackingThe Post Office Makes Holiday Shipping Easy – Heck, Even Fun

By Tisha Crews Keller

I’ve found mailing nirvana. I confess to being a do-it-yourselfer, the type of person who loves self-serve gas and self-checkouts. It fits nicely with the other type of person I am – one who hates to stand in line.

A few weeks before Christmas, here is my inevitable predicament: It’s lunch break, my arms are straining under a mountain of boxes and I’m hungry. I struggle into the post office to find … a prodigious line of people snaking almost out the front door. With family in at least three parts of the country, I dread only one thing more than Granny’s Christmas giblet gravy – standing in line to ship packages.

I’ve tried quick-ship stores and UPS. But it never fails: During the December shipping rush, there’s a line wherever you go.

Enter the modern U.S. Postal Service, the genius behind self-stick stamps.

Now there is another reason to love (and revisit) the post office. The Automated Postal Center (APC) is an ATM-like kiosk that sits in the P.O. box area of most post office lobbies. It is a magical tool that lets you be the postal employee – and takes the frustration out of shipping and mailing.

You want insurance on the silk pajamas you’re sending your niece? Done. Want to make Mom sign for her Vera Bradley purse? Check. Worried about Uncle Bob getting his fruitcake within two days? Try Priority Mail and get it to most locations within two days.

Much like a self-checkout, the APC uses a touch-screen interface to guide you through myriad mailing service choices. All by yourself, you can buy stamps, pay box rental charges, ship packages, mail letters, buy insurance, request delivery confirmation and more. All it takes is a credit or debit card.

Open 24/7, the APC is a convenient solution for most mailing needs. You can couple its convenience with the no-thought-required, “if it fits, it ships” flat-rate boxes and envelopes at the post office, and you can be on your way in no time.

David Harrell, supervisor of customer service at Tallahassee’s Centerville Road station, says postal customers are getting the hang of the APC. His station leads the district in APC usage and sales – to the tune of $400,000 per year, about 15 percent of the station’s overall service.

Harrell points out that there are some services you can’t get through the APC, including insurance over $500, signature confirmation, registered mail and the media/book rate. For those, he says, you’ll have to wait in line the old-fashioned way. However, with the APC in use, those lines are generally shorter than you remember.

This year, when I mail my stack of packages to states far and wide, I’ll walk right up to the APC and begin answering the onscreen questions. I’ll measure my packages with the handy ruler on the machine itself, weigh my boxes on its scale and buy all the postal accoutrements my heart desires. With a swipe of my credit card and a flick of my hand depositing boxes behind the drop door, my presents will be on their way to my loved ones – and I’ll still have most of my lunch hour for, well, lunch.

For more information on the go-to shipping options at the post office, visit

Free shipping materials: Pick up Priority Mail and Express Mail boxes, envelopes and labels at any post office lobby or order yours online.

New, lower online shipping prices: Buy postage and ship packages directly from your home computer.

Carrier Pickup Service: Arrange for your postal carrier to pick up the package the next day at no charge.

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