Consumer Confidential

Firms round up; we pay the price

"There has to be a uniform manner in which weights are determined," McCluskey said. "For us, this is an effective way to determine weights."

But wouldn't it be just as uniform to round down to the nearest pound?

"That's a good question," McCluskey replied. "Our standard has always been to round up."

In round-up world, the laws of physics apparently don't apply. For instance, DHL defines a package's "actual weight" as being "the weight of a package using a standard scale rounded to the next full pound."

The company illustrates this principle by stating on its website that "a 12 1/2 -pound carton will have an 'actual weight' of 13 pounds."

Back in the real world, a 12 1/2 -pound carton weighs 12 1/2 pounds, which is what any reasonable person might expect to be billed for, rather than 12 1/2 pounds of carton and one-half pound of nothing.

As if that wasn't strange enough, most shippers, including the U.S. Postal Service, also use something called dim weight, which is short for "dimensional weight." This is a calculation not of a package's relationship with gravity but its density, or how much space it occupies.

This is determined by multiplying a package's dimension -- length x width x height -- and then dividing by 194 if the total is 5,184 cubic inches or larger. Got that?

Shippers will determine both the "actual weight," which isn't really actual, and the "dimensional weight," which isn't really a weight, and then come up with a "chargeable weight."

That amount, needless to say, is whichever number is greater.

Karen Cole, a spokeswoman for UPS, said these sorts of measurements were a standard industry practice.

"I'm sure it boils down to simplification," she said.

That's one way of looking at it. Another would be that shippers are padding their pockets with a bogus system that charges customers for nothing.

Cellphone companies are also guilty of this by rounding up calls to the nearest minute -- in other words, charging customers for time they don't spend on the phone.

"It keeps things simple for customers," said Lauren Garner, an AT&T spokeswoman.

State lawmakers in Connecticut said this month that they were pondering legislation that would require wireless companies to charge to the second instead of the minute.

But that's a long shot, seeing as how cellphone companies fall under federal jurisdiction, and the Federal Communications Commission hasn't shown much interest in the matter.

Jaber, the medical-supplies dealer, said all he's looking

for is a fair price from the companies he does business with.

"Why should you have to pay for 52 pounds if the weight is 51.3 pounds?" he asked. "They weigh it. They can give you an exact weight."

No, they can give you an actual weight. Big difference.

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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