Paul Sassone: What the heck is a handling fee?

<p>Paul Sassone</p>

Paul Sassone

Many mysteries confront us.

Does life have a purpose? Is there heaven and hell? What is a handling fee?

Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the first two, but the third remains a mystery.

I bring this up because as I was just ordering a present online. Now, I have been ordering stuff through the mail since the 1950s when I sent away for a Lone Ranger ring with a silver bullet on top that glowed in the dark and contained a secret compartment.

Lone, or Tonto, must have mentioned my name to a marketing firm, because ever since I have been on capitalism’s mailing list and am asked (now electronically as well as in print) to send away for everything from naughty ladies’ underwear to limited-edition plates with John Wayne’s face painted on them.

But whether the seller is electronic or old school they all share one demand: a handling fee.

Everyone adds a handling fee to the cost of my purchase.

Once I was going to order some meat as a gift because, as you know, nothing says loving like something from the slaughterhouse. In addition to the cost of the succulent steaks, I was told to add $8.50 for postage and handling.

As a former postal employee I understand what postage is.

But what is this handling stuff?

Items in stores have to be unpacked, put on shelves, rung up, wrapped — in short, handled. But, a store clerk never adds $8.50 in handling to my bill.

Yesterday morning I bought a newspaper. I asked the sales lady if there would be a handling fee. She replied — after a moment — there would not be a handling fee.

From this I deduced that stores factor the cost of their handling into the price they charge.

So, why can’t send-away places do the same?

A mystery.

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