USPS Parcel Return Service

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March 13, 2024

If you’re an eCommerce business or an online retailer, offering free returns and exchanges can help boost customer satisfaction. It can also improve your sales numbers, as 54% of consumers buy from a store based on the availability of free returns.

However, the cost of offering these conveniences can quickly add up, especially considering that around 16.5% of online purchases in the U.S., worth a staggering $817 billion, were returned in 2022.

So, what do you do? Will you change your return policy to one where the consumer shoulders the return shipping costs? Will you stop offering returns altogether? Fortunately, you don’t have to do any of those things and risk losing consumer confidence.

Enter the United States Postal Service’s Parcel Return Service, an economical way for you and other shippers to provide free returns. This article will explore what the Parcel Return Service entails, its requirements, associated costs, and the various options it offers for return labels.

For additional information on how this return service can help you manage customer returns effectively, visit your local post office. Find your area’s most convenient post office locations with FindPostOffice.org’s facility locator tool.

Parcel Return Service (PRS): Is USPS Parcel Return Service the Post Office?

At its core, the Parcel Return Service or PRS is a high-volume merchandise return service offered by the U.S. Postal Service, more commonly known as USPS.

It’s a service that lets consumers resend purchased items to the original mailer without paying postage and needing to drop return items at the post office.

Unlike some of USPS’ per-package return services, including Priority Mail, Priority Mail Express, and Ground Advantage Return, the PRS is explicitly designed for bulk returns, perfect if you’re an eCommerce business and online retailer.

PRS offers economical and customized return shipping rates with further discounts, depending on whether you pick up the return shipments at a Parcel Return Delivery Unit (RDU) or a Parcel Return Sectional Center Facility (RSCF).

The Parcel Return Service also lets you schedule package collection, monitor shipments with USPS Tracking, and enjoy faster delivery times. These features enable you to resolve returns more efficiently and provide realistic resolution timelines to your customers.

But to answer the question “Is USPS Parcel Return Service the Post Office?”— no. While the U.S. Postal Service facilitates the PRS, they’re different. The former is the mail delivery provider, while the latter is one of the services being provided.

FedEx SmartPost, USPS Team Up on Returns Service

Collaboration can lead to innovative solutions. The U.S. Postal Service occasionally partners with its competitors to provide better return services. For example, the UPS Mail Innovations service is a joint venture between USPS and UPS (United Parcel Service).

On the other hand, the partnership between USPS and DHL (Dalsey, Hillblom, and Lind) gave birth to SmartMail Parcel Return. Conversely, FedEx’s (Federal Express) alliance with the U.S. Postal Service in 2009 resulted in the FedEx SmartPost, now Ground Economy, return service.

This FedEx-USPS collaboration, in particular, makes it more convenient for customers to return merchandise by providing return access points at USPS collection boxes and post offices. It also allows the consumers to request free package pickup, allowing further ease in the returns process.

Note that if you use this service, you must include prepaid return shipping labels in your original shipment, plus return instructions. It’s also worth noting that mailpieces weighing over 70lbs and exceeding 130 inches in girth may not be eligible for FedEx Ground Economy return service.

Requirements for Using PRS

To harness the benefits of USPS Parcel Return Service effectively, you and other shoppers must meet specific requirements and have the necessary capabilities. Here’s what you need to ensure you qualify for PRS:

  • Implement a Reverse Manifesting System: PRS requires a well-organized system for handling return packages, including having an approved Reverse Manifesting System or a way to calculate return shipping costs.
  • Establish sufficient processing centers: Efficiency is the name of the game, especially if you want to stand out in the highly competitive eCommerce and retail industry. Hence, you must have processing centers to qualify for PRS and provide speedy return solutions for your customers.

These centers must be equipped to document packages you collect from the Sectional Center Facility within 48 hours. This requirement ensures that return shipments move swiftly through the USPS network.

  • Logistics capabilities for post office pickups: One of the qualifying factors for the Return Delivery Unit rate is the ability to retrieve packages at local post office locations. This prerequisite ensures you can pick up high-volume return mail, which the PRS is designed for.
  • Utilize USPS-approved third parties: Fortunately, not having the capacity to retrieve returns from a Postal Service facility won’t automatically disqualify you from PRS. However, you must use a third-party shipping and returns consolidator as an alternative.

These shipping partners include OSM Worldwide, Pitney Bowes, VIPparcel, Kaleidoscope Services, and International Bridge, Inc.

  • Get a PRS permit: The most essential requirement for the USPS Parcel Return Service is the license. Unfortunately, this qualification is only available via a Negotiated Service Agreement (NSA). This contract provides customized pricing and shipping services.

For additional information on the NSA, visit the U.S. Postal Service website at USPS.com or contact a Postal Service representative at your local post office. Use FindPostOffice.org’s USPS facility locator tool to find your area’s nearest post offices. 

  • Submit authorization and identification: Once you have your PRS permit, you must submit an authorization letter and Form 3801 and Standing Delivery Orders to USPS facilities involved in your returns process.

This step ensures that your return shipments are appropriately authorized and accounted for. Additionally, be prepared to present a primary form of acceptable identification at each pickup location, such as a government-issued ID like a driver’s license.

Refer to the USPS website for detailed information on acceptable IDs and any restrictions available. You may also contact the Postal Service’s customer service hotline at 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777) to inquire about PRS requirements.

How Much Is USPS Parcel Return?

The cost of using USPS Parcel Return Service varies depending on several factors, including the return package’s weight and the distance from your customer’s address to the designated pickup facility.

The designated return facility that receives the return items and where you collect them, such as the RDU or RSCF, also influences your potential PRS expenses, as each may offer varying discounts.

Most importantly, the PRS is only available through a Negotiated Service Agreement or a contract basis. In other words, pricing may vary wildly between permit holders.

That said, the USPS Parcel Return Service provides a cost-effective return solution for merchants, making it a viable choice whether you’re a small business or a large enterprise.

Contact a USPS sales representative to determine how much using PRS will cost. Conversely, you can visit a local post office, which you can quickly find with FindPostOffice.org’s USPS facility finder.

How Do I Return Packages to USPS?

Returning packages through USPS Parcel Return Service is straightforward, but knowing the available methods and steps is essential, especially if you want to provide return instructions to help guide your customers.

Returning Purchases Through the Postal Service

When customers wish to return items through the USPS Parcel Return Service, here are the steps they must take:

  • Contact you: Instruct your customers to contact your business when they wish to return purchases. After that, you can provide further details on how they can proceed with the returns process.
  • Generate a return label: If you included a return shipping label with the original package, all your customer has to do is attach it to the return item. If not, they can create a return label through the USPS website or the Click-N-Ship service, a USPS online postage service that provides prepaid shipping labels.

The shipping label must contain essential return information, including the service label, PRS barcode, the RDU or RSCF address, and your identification.

  • Attach the label: Once your customer generates the return label, they must securely affix it to the package they’re returning. This label informs the U.S. Postal Service that the postage is prepaid and that your customer doesn’t need to attach additional postage.
  • Drop off or schedule pickup: Your customers have multiple options for returning their packages. They can drop off the package at a local post office or collection box or schedule a free package pickup through USPS.
  • Track the shipment: You can monitor the mailpiece’s journey using the USPS Tracking number, which you can use to determine when to retrieve the parcel at your chosen return facility. Your customers may also use the barcode number to determine if you’ve collected the parcel.

Can I Just Drop Off a Return Package at USPS?

USPS offers customers the convenience of dropping off their return packages at collection boxes and local post offices. This option is suitable for individuals who prefer a contactless return process or don’t have access to a home printer to generate return shipping labels.

Leaving packages at a post office location also comes with the added benefit of receiving the assistance of Postal Service representatives. Visit FindPostOffice.org to help your customers find their area’s most convenient USPS facilities.

Ways to Provide Return Labels

The provision of return shipping labels plays a critical role in the return process, as it informs USPS where to send the mailpiece and covers the postage fees.

Fortunately, the U.S. Postal Service provides various methods you can use to generate these return labels and ensure a smooth and efficient return transaction for you and your consumers.

These options include the following:

  • Use the USPS Label Delivery service: You can request the USPS Label Delivery service through the enhanced Click-N-Ship service. This convenient option allows you to order physical labels for $1.25 each, which you can include with your shipments. 
  • Utilize the cloud platform: As an alternative to providing a physical return label, you can leave instructions for your customers. With cloud-based solutions, you can store shipping label data that your consumers can conveniently access and print.
  • Integrate the returns tool: Make the return process seamless for your customers by integrating the USPS returns tool directly on your eCommerce website. This tool enables them to request return labels online, reducing the need for manual label generation.

However, you must have some programming knowledge, as this approach requires using the USPS Returns Label API (Application Programming Interface).

Compare Return Options: Learn About Return Services

As mentioned, the USPS Parcel Return Service is a high-volume returns solution. But what if your business has a low return rate? Fortunately, USPS offers other commercial return services that may be better suited for your specific needs.

The features and pricing are based on USPS’ September 2023 data. Contact the Postal Service customer service hotline or a post office for up-to-date information. Quickly find a post office near you with FindPostOffice.org.

Priority Mail Return Service

Priority Mail Return Service is an excellent option for a swift return solution. With delivery times between one and three days, it’s perfect for customers seeking a quick resolution. The pricing structure is based on the number of return labels scanned, starting from $7.64.

For expedited returns, Priority Mail Express Return offers next- to two-day delivery of return packages weighing up to 70lbs. However, this particular option costs $24.90 per number of scanned return labels.

First-Class Package Return Service Commercial

According to the USPS website, the First-Class Package Return Service is a return option for commercial parcels that require expeditious handling and transportation.

The delivery time for USPS First-Class Package Service is not guaranteed. If a return service is required, undeliverable parcels are shipped back to the sender.

Ground Return Service

The USPS Ground Advantage Return option offers a reliable and economical return solution with a delivery time of two to five days. It shares similar features with the other USPS return services, including scan-based pricing. However, it’s more cost-efficient, with prices starting at $3.59.

It’s also the primary return shipping option for merchandise that requires ground shipping or cannot be shipped by air. These items include restricted or HAZMAT (hazardous materials), such as perfumes and hand sanitizers.

The USPS Ground Advantage Return service also includes $100 insurance, protecting you from potential transit damages or loss. You can increase this protection to a maximum value of $5,000 for an additional surcharge.

Bulk Parcel Return Service

Like PRS, the Bulk Parcel Return Service is designed for businesses with substantial Parcel Select Lightweight or USPS Marketing Mail machinable mailpiece return volumes.

However, this solution requires a rate of 10,000 returns per year, which may not suit smaller merchants. In contrast, the required return amount for PRS depends on your specific contract.

Regardless, the Bulk Parcel Return Service offers delivery times ranging from two to nine days. Like the other USPS return options, the Bulk Parcel Return Service employs scan-based pricing, beginning at $4.15 per package.

References

  1. How to Reduce Ecommerce Return Rates: Statistics and Best Practices
    https://www.richpanel.com/blog/ecommerce-return-rates
  2. E-commerce returns in the United States – statistics & facts
    https://www.statista.com/topics/10716/e-commerce-returns-in-the-united-states/
  3. Parcel Return Service (PRS)
    https://faq.usps.com/s/article/Parcel-Return-Service-PRS
  4. Managing Customer Returns
    https://www.usps.com/business/return-services.htm
  5. 709 Negotiated Service Agreements
    https://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/709.htm
  6. UPS Mail Innovations
    https://www.ups.com/us/en/supplychain/logistics-solutions/mail-innovations.page
  7. SMARTMAIL PARCEL RETURN
    https://www.dhl.com/content/dam/dhl/local/us/dhl-ecommerce/
  8. FedEx SmartPost® List Rates and Zone Chart
    http://www.fedex.com/us/smartpostguide/smartpost/smartpost_rates_zones.html
  9. Reverse manifesting by returns service provider
    https://www.freepatentsonline.com/9033230.html
  10. 505 Return Services
    https://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/505.htm
  11. Contact USPS
    https://www.usps.com/help/contact-us.htm
  12. Parcel Return Service (PRS) Guide
    https://postalpro.usps.com/shipping/prs-guide
  13. Print Click-N-Ship Online Postage
    https://www.usps.com/ship/online-shipping.htm
  14. First-Class Mail
    https://www.usps.com/ship/first-class-mail.htm
  15. Price List
    https://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/notice123.htm
  16. Mailing & Shipping Prices
    https://www.usps.com/business/prices.htm