P.O. Boxes and virtual mailboxes are two different ways to create addresses and manage mail without actually signing a lease. This makes them excellent options to consider for distributed or remote businesses without a set physical office space.
But which is the better choice? In this article, we’ll help you understand the difference between a virtual mailbox and a P.O. Box to help you decide which best fits your business needs.
A traditional P.O. Box (Post Office Box or P.O. Box USPS) is a physical, lockable box you rent at your local Postal Office location. These are managed by the United States Postal Service (USPS) and are the physical mailboxes you see in many postal offices' lobbies. These are usually rented by month or year, and you can choose the mailbox size you want. The "address" you receive is usually formatted in a P.O. Box #, City, State, and Zip Code format (i.e., P.O. Box 59, Los Angeles, CA 90024).
The pricing of a P.O. Box can be found here.
A virtual mailbox (or virtual business address, virtual P.O. Box USPS, or virtual P.O. Box for business) is a service that uses a real street location to receive mail on behalf of the business owner.
Virtual mailboxes will usually have, but aren’t limited to:
These addresses are formatted with a real street address that contains a Unit #, Suite, or PMB attached at the end (i.e., 1234 Main Street #4000).
To learn more about what virtual P.O. Boxes are, how virtual P.O. Boxes work, and what the best virtual P.O. Box service is, check out our blog on the best virtual mailboxes.
Although P.O. Boxes and virtual mailboxes often get bundled and used interchangeably, their differences are significant. When you are deciding which one would be best, it’s important to note that the traditional P.O. Box comes with several limitations that need to be taken into consideration, including:
Unless you sign up for USPS’s Premium P.O. Box Services with a real street address, a P.O. Box address isn't a real street address. Instead, they are written in the format “P.O. Box #, City, State, Zip Code.” This may not be a huge deal for some businesses, but because of this, P.O. Boxes can’t accept mail from other mail providers like FedEx, DHL, and UPS. Virtual mailboxes and virtual addresses are real street addresses and, consequently, can accept these types of mail.
Depending on your mailing needs, this is one of the largest differentiators between the two. Is it important for your business address to accept mail from all mailing providers? If so, having a physical street address is a must.
Incorporating a company in the U.S. requires a business address that is not a P.O. Box. Similarly, a P.O. Box may not be accepted when registering to do business in different states, filing certain tax reports, or opening up a business bank account.
Although many banks will say they accept virtual addresses, some may not or will require additional information to verify your address. To ensure you can register for all your business needs, a virtual mailbox is a much more comprehensive option.
Instead of having to go in person to pick up your mail periodically, virtual mailboxes let you access and take action on your mail digitally. This means you don’t need to worry about possible address changes in the future, nor would you need to set aside time to visit the post office in person.
This also means that all your business mail can get scanned, uploaded to the internet, and kept on record without anyone on your team ever physically touching it. This is a huge time saver and helps you track all your mail in one centralized online location.
A virtual mailbox doesn’t have the same shipping restrictions that a traditional P.O. Box has. P.O. Boxes are part of the United States Postal Service, and as such, they won’t accept incoming mail or packages from competitors — including FedEx, UPS, and even Amazon. Virtual mailboxes don’t have these shipping restrictions and accept mail from any source.
Another important consideration with a P.O. Box is online business directories, like your Google Business Profile. Your Google Business Profile is one of the most important elements of SEO for your business. Having it fully optimized and updated with correct, current information is key to customers finding your business online. However, P.O. Boxes are not accepted as business addresses on Google.
When you don’t have a business address listed, the legitimacy and reputation of your business are called into question. It can hurt your SEO rankings and make your business appear less than authentic to potential customers. However, a virtual address can be used in your Google Business Profile and will help your search engine rankings.
There are many benefits of having a virtual mailbox over a traditional P.O. Box, some of which you might never have considered. Below, we'll highlight some of the most significant advantages of a virtual mailbox service.
Have you ever checked your company’s mailbox only to find it stuffed and full to bursting? “Overwhelming” would be putting it lightly.
A virtual mailbox takes some of that stress away with enhanced mail management for businesses. Because a virtual mailbox will digitize your mail, it removes some of the pain points of a physical mailbox: junk mail, lack of physical storage, and the time spent going back and forth to pick up mail in person.
For example, Stable gives you access to a user-friendly dashboard to manage your mail and notifications to let you know when mail arrives. This makes it easy to search and categorize every piece of mail your business receives and offers better organization (and easier access) than a physical mailbox can. Stable will also get rid of junk mail and other superfluous mail that you would usually need to sort through on your own.
When you have a physical mailbox, you need to visit and empty it regularly. This, of course, can only happen during the post office’s business hours, which often doesn’t include weekends or holidays. This takes time and can be incredibly inconvenient, especially if you are traveling or away from the physical location of your mailbox. With a virtual mailbox, you can access your mail from anywhere in the world at any time.
This is great for remote businesses or businesses where you travel often. With a digital mailbox, you don’t need to worry about direct access to a physical address in the post office. Instead, you can enjoy more freedom in where your business operates.
Another important benefit of a virtual mailbox is the real street address you will receive. This helps your business appear more professional to potential customers and clients, as well as online search engines. Think about it: If you research a small business that doesn't have an address, you might question its legitimacy — even if you know it's a virtual operation or startup.
But the stakes go even higher: In many instances like M&A, franchising, and vendor/supplier onboarding, larger companies will perform background checks on other businesses before deciding to enter into contracts or partnerships with them. If your business address doesn’t appear professional or legitimate, or if it’s in a poor location, you may lose potential contracts.
With a virtual mailbox, you get a real address that you can use in your business paperwork, website, and online business directories. This helps you appear more professional to your clients, partners, and other businesses you might work with. You can even set your virtual address in a prestigious city to help boost credibility and localize your business in an important area.
A virtual mailbox will give you more business operation features and mail services than a traditional P.O. Box. For example, a virtual mailbox often has check depositing services that connect to your business bank account. This way, checks can be deposited the same day they are mailed to your business address.
Virtual mailboxes will also have receiving and mail forwarding services for physical mail that you want to receive, like business licenses and tax documents. This also includes forwarding packages and other shipments you might receive at your virtual business address.
Another benefit is the security and privacy you get with a virtual mailbox. A virtual mailbox service that is HIPAA or SOC 2 compliant will ensure your mail is secure, so you can access it without worrying about important physical documents getting into the wrong hands. Along similar lines, many virtual mailbox services own the locations where mail is digitized, so only secure personnel handle customers’ mail.
A virtual mailbox can even help protect your disposed mail by offering secure shredding services. This helps to ensure that your information never falls into the wrong hands and is handled with the utmost care.
Virtual mailboxes like Stable offer advanced software integrations and productivity tools for small business owners to make mail operations streamlined — not a mess of loose papers.
With these integrations, you can leverage automation to take charge of your mail and eliminate manual processes from daily operations, freeing your personnel up to handle more pressing matters. Stable integrates with tools like Dropbox, so you can automatically push your documents to a folder, and Slack, so you can share mail from your messages.
Other Stable integrations include Google Mail, Microsoft Office, Google Drive, and other productivity tools to make organizing, responding, and acting on mail easier for your business.
Virtual mailboxes are superior to traditional P.O. Boxes in regard to convenience, functionality, and business requirements. With a virtual mailbox, you can have a street address for your business registration, banking, and tax needs. You also can access your mail from anywhere, organize it with advanced integrations and tools, and have more security and privacy than a P.O. Box offers.
Unless you need to be in close proximity to your business address or if you’d prefer to go in person to handle and pick up your mail regularly, a virtual mailbox has all the features a P.O. Box would fulfill (and more) while helping you save time and build a better business reputation.
Enjoy the convenience and flexibility of a virtual mailbox with Stable
At Stable, we provide permanent virtual addresses and mailboxes, so you never have to worry about mail or changing addresses again. We’ll digitize all mail you receive and scan, forward, shred, and even deposit checks from anywhere in the world. Get started with Stable to get a virtual business address and mailbox in less than three minutes!