Shipping to P.O. Boxes: Is it a No? Or Is it a Go?
- Shipping to a P.O. box presents a range of benefits and drawbacks for merchants and consumers alike
- P.O. boxes can often be managed online
- USPS’s MTC SA service can provide P.O. box users with an actual street address
- From convenience to cost, carrier specifications, security, privacy, credibility, location and more, find out whether a given P.O. box shipping scenario is “a go” or “a no”
To ship to a P.O. box, or to not ship to a P.O. box? That’s one question where the answer can vary vastly depending upon who you ask. If it’s a snowbird searching for a reliable place to receive mail while they’re strolling those sunny beaches, a post office box can come in pretty handy. If it’s a frequent traveler who’s lacking the time to check in on the pileup, a post office box might become one major source of stress.
If you’re a growing merchant with an e-commerce store, it can be tricky to ship to a USPS P.O. box due to a list of potential limitations—from package sizing to shipping safety and security, fraud potential, carrier issues and more.
How do you know which P.O. box shipping scenario is a no and which one’s a go? Here’s a little cheat sheet to help you weigh in on the merits and restrictions of shipping to P.O. boxes:
When it Comes to Customer Convenience
It’s a Go
- P.O. boxes are hosted by the U.S. Post Office, which means delivery is faster for direct mail and packages, since USPS personnel don’t have to travel to a residence or office
- For valued customers who move a lot, a P.O. box is a great way to maintain a steady address for priority shipments (favorite products, perhaps?) and mail from important institutions and government agencies they don’t want to miss
- Many P.O. box locations allow for 24/7 access to retrieve shipments and mail
- Premium P.O. box services might include smartphone alerts that notify clients when a shipment has arrived, plus an actual street address
- P.O. boxes can often be managed online
It’s a No
- Standard P.O. boxes can only receive mail that’s delivered through the USPS. That means there’s a limit to what you can do if your preferred carrier is one of the big names like UPS, FedEx or DHL. This can be particularly hairy if your e-commerce store’s checkout function doesn’t distinguish the nuance, causing shipments to get the green light for P.O. box delivery, only to learn the carrier has denied your request. For this reason, it might be wise to have a USPS Priority Shipping option available to your customers, so you can ensure you’re not losing valuable business.
- They might, however, be eligible to sign up for USPS’s MTC SA service, a handy little delivery option that we’ll break down in the When it Comes to Carriers section below.
- There are size limitations to what can fit into a post office box. If your shipping dimensions go over, or there’s already a pileup in your customer’s box, the package might be set aside by USPS
- Your customers must be 18 years or older to apply for their own P.O. box
- When it comes to tracking, it can get tricky. Your shipment might sit inside a P.O. box for quite some time before the buyer picks it up, thus the tracking updates remain in limbo until a confirmed pickup occurs. What if they wait too long? Will they break into a bout of buyer’s remorse and blame an “un-fresh” or “tampered with” product on the limitations of the P.O. box shipping system?
When it Comes to Privacy and Security
It’s a Go:
- P.O. boxes are among the safest, securest places to send shipments. Since they’re physically located inside the Post Office and under tight surveillance, and accessible only via key or combination lock, you can usually ensure customer privacy and security when shipping to a post office box
- The customer’s home address and personal information remain protected
- Shipments that arrive on doorsteps or in home mailboxes are generally more susceptible to stranger theft than those stored away safely in P.O. boxes (assuming they fit!)
- For customers and clients with strict privacy requirements or a history of having packages, mail and even identity theft complications, P.O. boxes can provide the assurance they need to confidently engage in online shopping and exchanges of personal information
- Important contracts, checks and documents with personal information are safely tucked away in post office boxes, even if the recipient is unable to check in or out of town— versus them sitting in a home mailbox without surveillance or assurance
- A P.O. box can be a solid option for independent business owners who don’t want to use a home address as their business address. It keeps their mail secure, accessible, and affordable to maintain
It’s a No:
- Sometimes, the more private your buyer, the more you begin to wonder about the potential for fraud. Do they really require a P.O. box to deliver a t-shirt? Or are you unknowingly being folded into a consumer scam where your customer’s actually a shill and the charges are about to be disputed?
When it Comes to Credibility
It’s (Mostly) a No
- P.O. boxes can sometimes signify a lack of credibility for the receiving party. How so? For a person to formally register themselves as an agent, corporation or LLC, a physical address is always required. P.O. boxes are not accepted. So if they’re unable to provide a real deal address, they might leave others questioning their liability
- And when it comes to your e-commerce store or online business, using a P.O. box for contact info could send a message to consumers and potential customers that you’re not a real entity. To them, your lack of physical address might signify a potential scam.
When it Comes to Shipping Location
It’s (Mostly) a Go
- There are 21.2 million or more P.O. boxes in the U.S. alone, so if you’re ruling out USPS delivery to all these locations, you might be missing out on some serious business
When it Comes to Carriers
It’s a Go
- The one overnight shipping carrier allowed to deliver packages to a standard P.O. box (which would literally be listed as a variant of “P.O. Box 123”) is USPS
- But! When someone signs up for their Move to Competitive Street Addressing (MTC SA) for P.O. Boxes service, or Street Addressing, the person can change their mailing address to the street address for the USPS Post Office where the box is located followed by the # sign and the box number
- For example, if a Post Office is located on 340 First Street and the recipient’s P.O. box is #33, they would be able to sign up for Street Addressing, and use the address 340 First Street #33, opening up the doors for private carriers to successfully deliver their mail. In cases where merchants can’t ship to P.O. boxes (which are most!), MTC SA is a great way for customers to keep receiving packages from carriers like UPS and FedEx.
- A caveat: the recipient can only use the address for items that can be delivered through the mail. For example, they are not allowed to use it to receive shipments of alcohol, items over 70 pounds, or items prohibited by Postal Service policies
- Also, Street Addressing isn’t available for Caller and Reserve Box or Group E Box customers
- FedEx Smart Post, which recruits the USPS system during the last leg of shipment, delivers to domestic P.O. boxes in the U.S.
- FedEx Express can ship to P.O. boxes in some international locations, as well as Puerto Rico
- Any USPS mail class can be sent to a P.O. box, even if it requires a signature. If it does, a notice will be left inside the post office box for the customer to pick up the mail or package at a designated USPS location within a certain number of days
It’s a No
- As mentioned above, private shipping companies or carriers like FedEx, UPS and Amazon can’t place mail or packages in a P.O. box unless the recipient is signed up for Street Addressing.
- If a USPS carrier shipment doesn’t fit in the P.O. box, the package will be retained at the post office for your customer to pick it up. USPS isn’t necessarily an automatic trump card, particularly if sizing limitations are at play
- P.O. boxes are not covered by any UPS Service Guarantee
When it Comes to Cost
It’s a Go
- All USPS mail classes and services ship to P.O. boxes, so you can pay as little as $0.55 for a first class letter to $26.35 (to start) for priority express
- Priority, Priority Express and First Class Mail will all get to your customer within 3 days (or even less)
It’s a No
- In the case of some carriers, like UPS, packages addressed to a P.O. box—that’s not using Street Addressing—require an address correction charge of between $13.40 and $91.00 (the max), on top of delays in service during the swapping process