First Class vs Standard Mail – What’s the difference?

When to use First Class vs Standard Class Mail

What is standard mail vs first class?

First Class vs Standard Class mail is the question that many businesses ask when considering a mailing campaign.

In order to make the best choice, it’s crucial to analyze the features, benefits, and costs of both first-class and standard mail. The final decision will be determined by your budget and the timeliness of the campaign.

Given it’s a common question asked by business owners and marketing teams, let’s look at the differences between first-class and standard (USPS bulk) mail. By the end of this article, you’ll be fully informed about mail optioand able to make the best decision for your direct mail marketing campaign or any other mailings that your business requires.

Before we commence, it’s important to note that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has changed the name of standard class mail to marketing mail. For the purposes of this article, we will use these terms interchangeably.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

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First Class Mail

First (no pun intended), let’s take a look at first-class mail.

What is first class mail?

USPS First Class Mail offers the highest level of service for delivering direct mail pieces such as postcards, letters, and packages in the United States. Think of any domestic mail or direct mail campaign sent in envelopes and small packages using USPS first class delivery.

The features of First Class Mail include:

  • the most consistent delivery timing- with delivery in 1–5 business days
  • smaller packages are typically delivered sometime between 1 and 3 business days
  • eligible for delivery confirmation services such as Certified Mail®
  • can be used for cards, letters, flats, and parcels that weigh 13 ounces or less
  • free automatic returns and mail forwarding
  • lower pricing is offered when using the presorted first class mail option.

What is presorted first class mail?

This is mail that’s been sorted and bundled by service type, size, and ZIP Code.

Presorting your first class mail can save you on postage as the USPS offers discounts of up to 20% to businesses who presort their mail.

We recommend presorting you mail to take advantage of these discounts, especially if you’re dealing with time sensitive mail.

What is considered first class mail?

First-class Mail is the least expensive and most immediate option for mailing postcards, letters, large envelopes, and parcels.

Any items that fit within the weight limit listed below can be considered first class mail.

What is the weight limit for first class mail?

Any envelopes that weigh less than 3.5 ounces and any package that weighs less than 13 ounces can be sent by this type of mail.

Illustration of a mailbox
First Class vs Marketing Mail

Standard Class Mail

Now we have a good overview of first class mail, let’s turn our attention to standard class (also known as marketing mail.)

What is standard class mail?

Marketing Mail is a level of service and pricing designed for large commercial mailing campaigns where time sensitivity is not as important. Using standard option in this instance will reduce the cost of the direct mail campaign.

The features of Standard Class Mail:

  • up to 32% cheaper per piece than first class mail
  • delivered in 5–21 business days
  • does not include forwarding and return service
  • pieces weigh less than 16 ounces
  • minimum of 200 pieces required

Standard Class tracking

A standard mail tracking service is available with the United States Postal Service (USPS) via the use of the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB). Intelligent Mail Barcode is a tool used to capture barcode scans on the pallets of mail that move throughout the USPS delivery system. This service allows for updates as the mail moves through the system to its final destination. The USPS does not always perform the scans for Standard Class Mail, but generally does. If you want to make sure you are getting as many IMB scans as possible, then you should use First Class Mail.

How to forward standard mail?

Standard mail does not offer free automatic returns and mail forwarding; instead, a special endorsement at an additional fee is required.

The USPS will discard any undeliverable standard mail that doesn’t have an endorsement.

To avoid wasting money on standard mail going to outdated addresses, we recommend cleaning up your database before sending standard mail.

What is considered standard mail?

Standard Mail can include flyers, newsletters, catalogs, or other printed marketing pieces identical in content. Each piece of Standard mail must be less than 16 ounces. The minimum quantity for any standard mail campaign is 200 pieces or 50 pounds of mail.

What is Non profit mail?

Standard mail can be classed as Nonprofit or Regular. Nonprofit rates are lower than Regular Standard Mail but have strict USPS content and design requirements.

The requirements for meeting this are strictly enforced. You can check whether your company meets the non profit requirements set by the USPS here.

How much does the standard direct mail cost?

The cost for standard mail will vary but starts at $0.197. Postalytics offers the best pricing to its clients. For example, even when the standard mail postage rates increased in August 2021, we offered our clients discounts.

What is presorted standard mail?

There is also the option to presort standard mail. Presorted mail is mail that has been sorted and combine by service type, size, and ZIP Code.

Presorting mail saves the USPS time allowing them to offer a discount for those who presort their mail of up to 20%.

First Class vs Standard Class Mail

Delivery time for first class and marketing mail

What is the difference between first class vs standard mail?

As we have seen, the significant differences between sending first class vs standard mail pieces are price, speed of delivery, and options for mail forwarding and mail returns for items that have incorrect addresses.

Let’s again look at the differences in speed and costs.

How long does first class mail take?

this mail can take between 1 and 5 business days for large packages and between 1 and 3 business days for small packages. You can find more detailed information on how long does first class mail take here.

How long does standard class mail take?

Standard mail has no guaranteed delivery time, but we recommended allowing between 9 and 21 business days to be delivered. Therefore, we would only recommend this option for mailers that aren’t time sensitive.

Holiday Season Mailing

Holiday mail example

The Winner here is first Class Mail

Because of the priority given to first class direct mail over standard/marketing mail, we strongly recommend that marketers use First Class during the holiday period, especially for time-sensitive promotions.

We’ve seen holiday season standard class mail take weeks to deliver, with drastic variations in delivery times.

The holiday season (from Thanksgiving through the New Year) represents the peak mailing season for the USPS. In fact, over 15 billion pieces of mail are processed during the holiday mailing season.

Learn More About Holiday Season Mailing

Because local and regional bottlenecks can occur during the peak season, these slowdowns can be completely unpredictable and out of the control of the marketer and/or the printer/mailer.

Direct Mail Automation and Postage Class Choices

Automated mail campaign overview

Automated direct mail software like Postalytics should make the choice between first class and standard class direct mail easier. Self service tools should speed up your ability to execute, and remove friction from decision making.

The Postalytics Smart Send Campaign type has a cool “Estimated In Home Date” tool that helps marketers get a sense of when their mail will be typically delivered, and what the cost differences are for First Class vs Standard Class.

Final Thoughts

First Class and Standard Mail options

While the above summarizes the differences between first-class vs standard mail- it still leaves a decision to be made; which is the best option to use?

The decision will usually come down to the urgency with which the information must be mailed in addition to the budget allocated for the mailing.

If you want your mail delivered faster, then first-class mail is the best option. We would also recommend using first class if you wish to take advantage of the free forwarding and return services.

On the other hand, if you want to stay cost-effective and delivery time isn’t crucial, then standard class mail is the better way for you to go. Standard class mail is also a better option if you have a large mailing and want to take advantage of bulk rates. Just be sure that your customer database is up to date so as to eliminate failed deliveries.

Whichever option you choose, you can be sure that Postalytics can offer you the best results for your mailing needs.

Please contact us for more information on mailing or to discuss which mailing option is best for you.