• on Dec 2nd, 2013 in Products & Services | 226 comments

    Young or old Elvis? That was the question 20 years ago when the U.S. Postal Service considered artwork for the Elvis stamp. The Postal Service put the vote to the public and controversy soon followed. Members of Congress debated the worthiness of an Elvis stamp, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton weighed in, and the whole thing became fodder for cartoonists and late-night comedians, according to the National Postal Museum.

    Elvis Mania paid off and the Elvis stamp went on to become the most popular U.S. commemorative stamp of all time.

    Now comes the Harry Potter stamp. He may not be the cultural icon Elvis is, but he’s created no less controversy. The Postal Service hopes the stamp will be a blockbuster to rival the king of rock n’ roll. The organization also hopes a Harry Potter stamp – and other youth-themed stamps – will spark interest in stamp collecting among the younger generation. But some philatelists think the idea of a Harry stamp is all wrong. For one thing, Harry Potter isn’t even American. Philatelists tend to view stamps as works of art and small pieces of American history. They balk at images that are blatantly commercial.

    The disagreement has put stamp collecting and the entire process for choosing a stamp in the news. The news reports also raise the issue of the future of stamps. Stamp collecting is seen by some as a dying hobby, as fewer young Americans participate. The stamp controversy actually underscores a larger Postal Service dilemma: How does it stay relevant among a generation that doesn’t really think too often about stamps or even hard copy communications? The postmaster general, for one, has said the Postal Service needs to start thinking differently. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said the agency “needs to change its focus toward stamps that are more commercial” as a way to increase revenue to compensate for declining mail volume as Americans switch to the Internet.

    Tell us what you think:

    • Should the Postal Service market stamp images that focus on a younger audience in hopes of reaching beyond traditional collectors and generating sales?
    • Should the Postal Service be allowed to develop themes and images that do not focus on American heritage for the sake of sales?
    • Or, should stamps be works of art and pieces of history and not based on fads or celebrities?
    • What stamp images would you like to see?
  • 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?

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