• on Feb 22nd, 2014 in Products & Services | 3 comments

    Postal customers took fewer trips to the Post Office this past holiday season but that doesn’t mean they spent less on postal products. They just conducted more business through alternative channels, such as online at USPS.com and self-service kiosks. Over the 2013 holiday season, transactions at brick-and-mortar post offices were down 8 percent compared to last year, but transactions through alternative access were up 17 percent, postal officials reported.

    The movement to online postage transactions certainly mirrors the larger societal shift toward e-commerce and mobile commerce. But the big shift over the holidays to alternative access could also be the result of reduced hours at some post offices. Customers will shop where they find it most convenient, and in some locations post offices are opened only a few hours a day. This certainly makes Village Post Offices and contract postal units, self-service kiosks, and online purchasing more attractive. Many of these options are available 24 hours a day.

    The U.S. Postal Service recognizes that it needs to be where people find it most convenient to buy postage or other mailing services. The Postmaster General stated as much at the recent Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee meeting when addressing alternative access, including the Postal Service’s decision to partner with Staples. But alternative access retail options have limitations, which if not addressed could frustrate customers and leave some money on the table.

    Our recent audit of self-service kiosks found that customers are not using kiosks as much as anticipated for a few reasons: they sometimes are located in hidden parts of the lobby; kiosk signage is not always visible; and lobby assistants are not always available or fully trained to help customers help themselves. In addition, self-service kiosks are generally housed in retail outlets with the highest mail volume, primarily urban and suburban areas. Low-traffic retail outlets, often in rural areas, get a double whammy. They are not likely to have a kiosk and their Post Office hours are reduced.

    How can the Postal Service ensure that customers receive suitable services while reining in operating costs? Does the Postal Service need more self-service kiosks, or should it redistribute the 2,500 now in service? What incentives might the Postal Service offer merchants to house Village Post Offices? Or should the Postal Service restore hours to its own post offices, even those that are not profitable? 

  • on Feb 3rd, 2014 in Products & Services | 17 comments

    Most postal pundits agree the U.S. Postal Service can’t cut its way to prosperity. It needs to generate new revenue to succeed over the long run. But whose job is it to sell the steak as well as the sizzle? The postmaster general? The Postal Service sales staff? Postmasters, clerks, carriers? Yes, yes, and yes. It would seem everyone has a role to play in reaching out to potential new customers.

    Think about it. No one knows the Postal Service’s products and services better than postal workers. They also have daily contact with customers and they know their local communities extremely well. These factors present a huge opportunity to tap burgeoning markets, such as the 23 million small businesses in the country, as our audit indicates.

    The Postal Service has established a variety of initiatives to target small businesses, such as Every Door Direct Mail, the No Business Too Small online portal, and Business Connect. Every Door Direct, which encourages mom-and-pop stores to use mail to expand their customer base, has been extremely successful. On the other hand, Business Connect, an effort to harness postmasters’ knowledge and connections in their communities to generate sales, has had a harder time gaining traction. Our work suggests there’s a lot of potential for revenue growth from Business Connect that has yet to materialize.

    One problem could be incentives, or the lack of them. Postal employees, like most workers, are probably more likely to prioritize their tasks based on what their managers emphasize and reward. In that respect, many postmasters feel enormous pressure to keep workhours and costs down while keeping service up. So this might be their primary focus. Without the right incentives to encourage sales and customer outreach, motivation might be lacking.

    Another problem could be training, or the lack of it. Many employees have never been trained in sales and still others are probably not particularly comfortable with that role. Is the Postal Service providing employees with the training and skills they need when they are asked to reach out to customers in programs such as Business Connect?

    Selling the business is to the advantage of everyone who works for it. But if the Postal Service wants to institutionalize this responsibility and require that its employees reach certain targets, then proper incentives, training and support are critical.

    Should postal workers be required to “sell” the Postal Service? Would a system of financial incentives, such as those used in the private sector, work best, or would another type of reward be more effective? 

  • on Dec 16th, 2013 in Products & Services | 2 comments

    Holiday greeting cards still outweigh e-cards in terms of sentiment and personal touch, recent surveys indicate. Even digital natives say a card in the mail evokes a stronger reaction than a text or email. Yet, each year, fewer and fewer people are sending holiday greeting cards through the mail.

    In 2011, American households on average sent about 16 holiday greeting cards, according to the Postal Service’s recently released 2012 Household Diary Study report. Twelve years earlier, 23 holiday cards were sent. Data from the Greeting Card Association also chart the downward trend: U.S. consumers bought 1.5 billion holiday cards in 2011, compared to 2.7 billion in 1995.

    Still, mailed holiday greeting cards remain an important component of the Postal Service’s revenues for the year, as single-piece First-Class letters are one of the Postal Service’s most profitable products. While mail is not as seasonal as it used to be, a strong holiday season still sets the tone for the entire fiscal year.

    It seems unlikely that this trend in holiday greeting cards can be easily reversed, given the overall decline in mail use and a growing comfort with digital communications. But, perhaps some small innovations might revive interest in sending holiday greeting cards. For example, Australia Post is pioneering the use of “video stamps” – a recorded 15-second video that the addressee can view using a smart phone app. While the post is allowing the stamps on parcels only at the moment, a similar type QR code might provide an interesting opportunity for greeting cards.

    What other innovations or digital enhancements might work well on hard-copy greeting cards? Do you plan on sending greeting cards this year? Do you expect to send more or fewer cards than last year? 

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