SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has found itself at the center of a political tug-of-war, with calls to dramatically change how it functions as the organization continues to lose money.
Mail sent via USPS has been on the decline for years, but took a more severe hit during the pandemic, with volume dropping 30% in April 2020.
Some politicians, including President Donald Trump, have suggested USPS operate more like a business. Critics counter that those actions would mean costs for basic services would skyrocket. Trump himself suggested rates should be raised as much as 400 percent.
The KSL Investigators conducted an experiment: How does USPS compare with the two other main delivery services when sending a birthday card to a loved one?
It’s nearly Kaiden’s birthday, and his Salt Lake City cousins decided to send him some birthday cards.
Once the cards were carefully crafted and addressed, they needed to be shipped from Salt Lake City, Utah to College Station, Texas.
Three cards were shipped three ways: USPS, FedEx, and UPS.
To test arrival times at a variety of distances, we also sent letters to Connecticut, Las Vegas, and Layton.
Without disclosing the experiment to the delivery services, all twelve letters were sent within the same hour from within the same zip code at the cheapest rate possible. This meant standard shipping, no tracking information, and no express services.
We asked those receiving the mail to be vigilant, and report back the day each letter arrived. Here was the breakdown in cost of delivery for 12 letters and delivery date:
Four stamps cost $2.20 to send the letters to the various locations. USPS was by far the cheapest delivery method in this study.
USPS delivered the letters to Layton, the closest destination, within two days.
It took four days to deliver to Texas and Nevada, and seven days to go all the way to Connecticut.
A USPS spokesperson told us they strive to provide “great service at a competitive price” and deliver to “160 million delivery points across the United States every day.”
Currently, 38.5% of deliveries are first-class mail, with marketing mail making up the bulk of deliveries, 53%. The postal service operates with an annual budget of $71 billion and had a net loss of $8.8 billion in 2019.
It cost $39.55 to mail all four letters, but FedEx was fastest at delivering the letter going the farthest.
The letter to Connecticut arrived just four days after mailing. The letter to Layton arrived in two days, and the letters to Texas and Nevada arrived the same days as USPS, four days later.
FedEx did not comment on this experiment.
UPS was the most expensive and took the longest for the farthest delivery. It cost $45.90 to mail the four letters. When we purchased the postage, even the UPS clerk tried to sell us postage stamps for much cheaper.
Like the other two carriers, the letter to Layton arrived in two days. The letter to Nevada also only took two days and was the fastest delivery to Sin City. The letter to College Station arrived in five days.
It took eleven days for the letter to Connecticut to arrive, a full week after the fastest delivery via USPS.
UPS did not immediately respond to our request for a comment.
What does this mean for businesses?
With most households sending the occasional birthday card, we decided to reach out to a company that sends far more mail every year.
Neighborhood House has served Salt Lake City for 125 years, providing cost-effective day care for children and adults.
Jennifer Nuttall is the Executive Director of this nonprofit, and said direct mail is vital to reaching their clients. They mail everything from billing invoices to solicitations for donations.
“There are a lot of our constituents who don’t use social media, who don’t use email, and really that’s the only way that we have of getting hold of them,” said Nuttall.
As a nonprofit, Nuttall said the impacts of an exponentially larger postage budget would be harmful to the organization, and ultimately, the community.
“It’s going to cost us more to do our work, and nonprofits are in the community to help make things more equitable. And I think the Postal Service is what helps do that,” she said.
Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at [email protected] or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.