“Don’t Guess The ZIP Code” And 8 More USPS Tips To Avoid Holiday Shipping Glitches

Whether you’re heading out into the Black Thursday maelstrom or waiting until later, if you’ve got loved ones who don’t live near enough for an in-person gift delivery, odds are you’ll be doing some shipping this holiday season. But there’s nothing worse than a present that shows up banged, dinged or never at all. The U.S. Postal Service doesn’t want that either, so it’s offering up a few handy tips to avoid shipping glitches.

Because they’d likely rather avoid customer complaints during the holidays, the USPS passed along nine useful tips that might seem like common sense, but we’re sure they’ve seen pretty much everything. Like, don’t just guess at what a ZIP code is. There’s the Internet for that kind of thing.

1. Never guess a ZIP code: “NO ZIP is better than a WRONG ZIP,” the USPS says. Or just type the address into any search engine and find out what it really is.

2. Being sloppy won’t help: Make sure addresses are printed clearly and include all the right information. If Cousin Betsy lives in an apartment building, don’t leave that out. If she’s on Pine Lane, make sure you don’t write street. Common sense, yes, but this must happen or otherwise the USPS wouldn’t be telling us about it.

3. No one wants an unexplained noise/drained toy: Wrap batteries separate from toys instead of leaving them in, if they’re included. We can just imagine the hilarious annoyance of an unremitting bleep bloop beep bop at the post office. Or on the other hand, the sad face of a child who has to be told the toy is out of juice and Dad forgot to buy more AA batteries.

4. Leave tracks: Put a card in the package that includes not only where the package is supposed to go, but where it’s come from. That way if the mailing label gets mucked up or falls off, or the box splits apart, the package can be returned or delivered.

5. Be up front: On that note, make sure both the “to” and “from” information is on the front of the package only. Splitting them up can lead to confusion, as I learned when I received a card from myself after putting the return address on the back of an envelope.

6. This is one time to not recycle: We know, the environment loves a recycler. But the USPS says by reusing mailing boxes you’ve shipped things in in the past, your package could be in danger — the boxes weaken in the shipping process. And a weak box equals a present gone missing.

7. Speaking of boxes, strong is better: Mailing something heavy? Pick a box that’s strong enough to protect what you’ve got inside. The USPS helpfully points out that its Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express boxes are free at the post office.

8. Leave space for cushioning inside: Enough said. More cushion, less pushin’. On the box’s sides, of course.

9. Fragile things are best intact: “Stuff glass and fragile, hollow items, like vases, with newspaper or packing material to avoid damage,” suggests the USPS. If you’re including a framed photograph, remove the glass and wrap it separately. No one wants a box full of shattered glass (especially not Annie Lenox, har har).