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Gadget Review

Stamps.com Internet Postage

By Kailas Narendran
COLUMNIST

Stamps.com gives you the ability to print postage from your PC. It’s just like going to counter at the post office, but without the lines and crappy service. You can get rate quotes, purchase and print postage -- all from your desk for a monthly service charge. I found the service enormously convenient, despite some flaky third party integration issues in the software and annoying post office regulations for the service. The Stamps.com service is well designed and has good support. If you send mail via U.S. Postal Service frequently, the service they provide is invaluable.

Why bother?

There are often times when e-mail just doesn’t cut it. Whether you’re an eBay addict that needs to send packages or someone sending a letter to your not-so-techno-savvy grandmother, at some point all of us have to enter the dreaded post office. Once you’re in line, all are equally mistreated and ignored. Until now, your only option to avoid the post office was to either buy stamps -- most likely from the post office -- or get a stand alone meter.

If you get a meter, you’re limited on the dimensions of packages you can print postage for, and there’s a significant rental and maintenance cost in addition to another piece of equipment you have to deal with. The Stamps.com service provides another alternative by integrating services normally provided by the post office into your computer and printer.

Whenever you want to mail something, you simply type in the recipient’s address, select the type of package, and press print. You can print out on your conventional printer (directly onto the envelope or onto label sheets), standard pages for shipping labels, or onto a label printer. The software automatically corrects addresses that are wrong to ensure it will be delivered correctly.

Features (and those to come)

There are more cool features that Stamps.com provides, above and beyond making your printer into a postage meter. They have a service called Netstamps that lets you literally print your own stamps. You can use these stamps whenever you want (as opposed to the meter mode, where you need to mail it on the day you’ve indicated on the postage).

For those that sell a lot on eBay, a service will be offered soon that allows hidden postage. This is for when you want to re-coop handling charges by summing them into your shipping, without letting the buyer know that the postage was really only half of what they paid you. Stamps.com is the only online postage provider that is approved for the service.

Third party unparty

I found that the third party integration in the software was pretty marginal. After I installed the Microsoft Word integration, my copy of Word became unstable and would not let me uninstall it. However, the stand alone software for Stamps.com works well.

The stand alone software allows you to manage a contact database, print postage in batches, etc. I found it easy to use and understand. It also provided a good degree of flexibility.

USPS interaction

Going with Stamps.Com does not completely shield you from the inefficiency of the USPS. Currently, it seems like any innovation in the technology is limited by the speed of the government. Even if the company comes up with cool features, it takes a significant amount of time to push it through the bureaucracy of the USPS. For example, you can’t print metered international postage yet due to government regulations. I imagine that as online postage catches on, the process will move faster.

$.02

Stamps.com provides a cost effective postage alternative over the traditional in-office meter. The “Power Plan” offer for $15/month allows you to purchase and print unlimited amounts of postage. Compare that to a meter which runs about $50/month, and the choice is a no-brainer. Almost everyone has a computer, printer, and internet access these days, so you might as well use the flexibility it provides if you need it. You can find out more at (you guessed it) http://www.stamps.com.