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USPS is the best value for non-critical shipments

In the United States, four major organizations (USPS, FedEx, UPS and DHL) dominate the shipping industry and consumers are likely to find an equal mixture of strengths and weaknesses at each of them.

Experts say that the United States Postal Service is giving FedEx, UPS and DHL more competition than ever. Not only does the USPS offer lower prices in all competing categories, it has also begun offering services that used to be unique to the other carriers such as discounts for medium- to large-volume shippers, pick-up service and parcel return service. A study by a major consumer testing organization shows that even overnight deliveries are cheaper with the USPS than they are with major competitors.

The USPS also offers a large variety of shipping options and service levels for packages. Media Mail (*est. $2.23 and up), which includes books, recordings and diskettes, and Parcel Post (*est. $3.67 and up) are the least expensive ways to send packages but they also take the longest to arrive at their destinations (two to nine days). Priority Mail (*est. $4.80 and up) arrives much faster, within three days. Priority Flat Rate is also available for items that can fit into a USPS Flat Rate envelope (*est. $4.80) or box (*est. $9.80). For urgent deliveries, the Postal Service offers overnight Express Mail (*est. $12.60 and up). Flat-rate prices are also available with this service, though only for items that will fit into a flat-rate envelope (*est. $16.50).

Other conveniences that are unique to the United States Postal Service are free boxes for priority mail, shipping services to Army post offices (APOs), fleet post offices (FPOs) and post office boxes, as well as 24-hour shipping machines in most locations. Delivery on Saturdays is standard for the Postal Service, while it's not for other carriers. For a premium, the USPS will deliver on Sundays and holidays to select locations.

The big caveat in reviews, however, is that USPS delivery confirmation (*est. $0.70), an optional service, does not provide adequate tracking information nor is there any other option available for tracking packages. Package tracking is a big strength of UPS and FedEx. So if it's important for you to know where a critical package is from hour to hour, the U.S. Postal Service isn't the best choice.

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