In 1963, the ZIP Code was introduced by the U.S. Postal Service as a means to deliver mail faster and cheaper. Fifty years later, this system has grown to provide unforeseen benefits as an infrastructure that enables commerce and organizes information. However, the ZIP Code was not universally accepted at the onset. To overcome skepticism from consumers and mailers, the Postal Service launched a creative outreach campaign led by a character called Mr. ZIP. This mailman caricature served as the primary advocate for the ZIP Code and increased public support for the idea enough to overcome the initial resistance from stakeholders. Below we interview Mr. ZIP to hear the story of the ZIP Code.
As Mr. ZIP mentions in his interview, the Postal Service Office of Inspector General Risk Analysis Research Center has worked with IBM to issue a white paper entitled “The Untold Story of the ZIP Code“. This white paper explores the lessons learned from the creation of the ZIP Code and estimates an economic value for the ZIP Code of about $10 billion annually across the entire economy. Most importantly, the paper presents two enhancements to strengthen the ZIP Code’s placement in the modern world:
Combining the ZIP Code with geocodes could allow easier reconfiguration of delivery routes in real time as well as help align government in assisting disaster recovery efforts, tracking population “flight paths” to unaddressed areas, and increasing the capability to link demographics to unaddressed areas. Linking demographic information with the ZIP Code and offering smaller mailing groupings would improve target mailings. This would increase the value of mail for senders and receivers by connecting recipients with mail they want to receive and reducing less valuable broad mailings.
What ideas do you have for enhancing the ZIP Code to meet the demands of today’s ever-evolving society? How might the Postal Service enhance the ZIP Code to gain internal benefits? What enhancements would place the ZIP Code in a better position to provide the innovators and entrepreneurs new capabilities to meet today’s demands?