• on Sep 30th, 2013 in Products & Services | 6 comments

    This is the time of year when retailers, nonprofit organizations, and other mailers step up their holiday advertising mailing campaigns. Volume spikes in this period, known as the fall mailing season, which then gives way to the even-busier holiday mailing season, when personal correspondence and packages spike. The U.S. Postal Service makes most of its money for the year in the period between Labor Day and Christmas.

    Commercial mailers work closely with the Postal Service to help it prepare, but the fall mailing season has always presented operational challenges. In some ways, it is highly efficient because facilities are staffed for busy times. But postal equipment, including mail tubs, trays, mail transporting equipment, and pallets, have to be in the right places at the right times. In past years, commercial mailers have complained about shortages of mail equipment. Ideally, mail sorting equipment should run at optimal throughputs for maximum efficiency, and the online system mailers use to set up mail entry appointments should work seamlessly. Still, mail delays can occur for a variety of reasons, including mail processing errors, inefficient use of automation equipment, congestion on the facility floor, and working from incomplete operating plans.

    The Postal Service’s fall mailing season plan attempts to eliminate roadblocks to swift processing and delivery. This year, it has ordered extra mail transport equipment and looked at ways to shift volume from heavily used equipment to under-used processing equipment. The Postal Service is also relying on the increased visibility from the Intelligent Mail barcode as a diagnostic tool to uncover bottlenecks. These tools helped it reduce mail delays in fall 2012 by showing “pinch points” and helping managers act on that information to reduce mail cycle times.

    This year, however, could prove especially challenging as the Postal Service continues with its network consolidation implementation. It has completed more than 150 facility consolidations and has moved more than 700 pieces of equipment in support of the consolidations. With the late date of Thanksgiving this year, the end of fall mailing season pushes right into the peak mailing season for the holidays.

    Mailers, what have your experiences been like so far this fall mailing season? Are there noticeable improvements in mail equipment availability, mail delivery times, and appointment opportunities? Has network consolidation posed any unexpected challenges?

  • on Sep 23rd, 2013 in Products & Services | 19 comments

    Until the early 1970s, citizens applying for passports had to wait in long lines at one of 10 U.S. Department of State passport offices or at a federal or state court. The traveling public was not happy about the inconvenient locations of these offices or the hours’ long wait to submit an application, and they let their elected officials know. The solution allowed post offices to accept and process passport applications on behalf of the State Department. The passports were then mailed directly to the applicants.

    This arrangement has proven to be a highly successful marriage of government services. With many post offices offering passport services, it has become far more convenient for citizens. Today, customers can go online to find the nearest post office with passport services and also find the number to call to make an appointment. (Most post offices require customers to make an appointment for passport service.)

    The execution fee for a passport is $25. In fiscal year 2012, the U.S. Postal Service processed 5.7 million passport applications for revenue of $142 million. With the additional services it offers, such as passport photos and return postage, the Postal Service’s total revenues from passport services in 2012 was $182 million. It is a nice chunk of change for a service the Postal Service does not need to market aggressively. Still, the Postal Service has seen a significant decline in passport revenue over the past 4 years. In 2008, it earned $283 million from passport services.

    The decline in passport revenue could be attributed to a few things. First, the weak economy has undoubtedly reduced international travel over the past 4 years. It could also be that 2008 was an especially strong year for passport revenue because changes taking effect in 2009 required a passport to return to the U.S. from travel to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. However, postal staff reduction and facility closures could also be playing a role. Customers have complained about waiting too many days or weeks for a passport appointment at their Post Office or about being directed elsewhere for service.

    Why do you think passport services revenue has declined so dramatically in the past few years? Is there a way the Postal Service could improve the process? What changes could it make to maximize passport revenues?

  • on Aug 26th, 2013 in Products & Services | 7 comments

    Everyone loves getting something for free. Soon, you may have to look no further than your mailbox for a free sample. The U.S. Postal Service is offering consumer package goods companies and other direct mailers a discount on sending product samples in the mail through the end of September.

    “They’ll buy it, if they try it” is how the Postal Service is marketing its Product Samples mail promotion. It would seem that many marketers agree with that tagline.  A marketing expert quoted in a recent article in Marketplace called sending samples “perhaps the single most effective marketing method there is, especially for new products.” But difficulty in measuring samples’ success, and a rise over the years in postage for sending samples through the mail, has made it something of a lost art. Some former users of product samples say the Postal Service’s pricing changes in the late 1990s helped kill this mail product.

    Product samples have some challenges, however. One is how best to track sales leads from the distribution of a sample product. For example, a company handing out shampoo at a gym might not know if the sample was the reason someone later bought the shampoo. Marketers frequently include coupons or directions to an online offer. Coupons are ideal accompaniments to a mailed product sample, allowing the company to track response of the offer. The bigger challenge may be finding a workable price for product samples. The Postal Service needs to be able to find a price at which the product makes money, but is not so high as to make it unattractive to marketers.

    Still, the biggest boon to the Postal Service might be in how Product Samples increase the value of mail. You can’t send a product sample by text message or email. The Postal Service has designed Product Samples to raise awareness of its Simple Samples offering, which gives users flat-rate pricing, volume discounts, and simpler mail-preparation requirements, including no need for outer packaging. Keeping it simple should help as well.

    How do you feel about receiving samples in the mail? Are you more likely to purchase something if you have a favorable reaction to a sample? Could a resurgence of marketers using sampling techniques help improve the value of mail?

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