• on Jul 7th, 2014 in Products & Services | 3 comments

    It’s no secret what the advent of digital technology has done to mail volume, particularly First-Class Mail. But there’s an emerging digital technology catching hold that could be a boon to the U.S. Postal Service. It’s called 3D printing, and it’s expected to increase the number of lightweight parcels, a segment of the parcel market where the Postal Service excels.

    3D printers build solid objects usually one razor-thin layer at a time using plastics, powders, metals, polymers, or other materials. Examples include one-of-a-kind jewelry, custom-fit dental implants or hearing aids, unique iPhone cases, and the like. Mostly small-size things, at least so far. But one of the big advantages of 3D printing is the ability to customize just about anything to anyone’s taste or whim, and people increasingly like custom-made products.

    Retailers are already using 3D printers to make these kinds of goods, which consumers are buying and having shipped to them. The total 3D printing industry was valued at around $3 billion in 2013 but is expected to grow to $16.2 billion by 2018. And as it grows, 3D printing could lead to more single-item parcels being shipped to consumers over shorter distances, instead of hundreds of thousands of identical items sent by containerized cargo over vast distances.

    In our new white paper, If It Prints, It Ships: 3D Printing and the Postal Service, we explore how 3D printing could lead to an increase in packages delivered by the Postal Service representing $485 million in new annual revenue. Emerging 3D printing businesses could take advantage of the Postal Service’s unique and ubiquitous first- and last-mile network: Carriers already delivering mail every day, making the addition of lightweight parcels easy and cost-effective. And the Postal Service could partner with 3D printing businesses, perhaps using excess space in postal facilities, to help streamline the fast delivery of 3D printed goods.

    Tell us what you think:

    • How much experience have you had with 3D printing?
    • In what areas do you think 3D printing will have the most impact?
    • How could the Postal Service adapt its business strategy to handle a rise of 3D-printed goods?
  • on Jun 30th, 2014 in Products & Services | 7 comments

    Maybe this is the first time you’ve heard the term “collaborative consumption,” but even if it’s not, chances are you’ll be hearing it a lot more. It refers to an economic model based on renting, lending, and sharing goods instead of buying them. In fact, not long ago, Time magazine listed it as one of “10 Ideas That Will Change the World.”

    Collaborative consumption is very popular among Millennials, who increasingly constitute a culture that likes to rent just about everything from clothing to tools. For one thing, rental prices are lower than purchase prices, which not only is nice on the wallet but also significantly increases the number of items from which to choose.

    Rental culture is not entirely new – remember DVDs from Netflix? – but it is growing. In 2013, Forbes estimated the revenue from the sharing economy will exceed $3.5 billion, representing more than 25 percent growth over the previous year.

    While people certainly do still buy things, especially online, the ownership culture primarily involves one-way shipping except for the occasional returns. Rental culture guarantees two-way shipping every time, or double the revenue, for carriers like the U.S. Postal Service.

    Some think the Postal Service is already well-positioned to be a major player in rental culture shipping. It delivers to rural or remote areas at the same prices as urban addresses while other carriers charge more to deliver to rural areas. Moreover, the Postal Service’s roughly 30,000 post offices across the country mean renters wouldn’t have to look far for a shipping point when return time comes, or just put it in the mailbox for the mail carrier to take. And flat rate boxes mean renters immediately know the cost of shipping without having to weigh anything.

    Tell us what you think: Do you use these kinds of rental services? How should the Postal Service actively pursue the rental-shipping market? Or do you think rental culture is really just a fad? 

  • on Jun 2nd, 2014 in Products & Services | 1 comment

    If your favorite catalog looks more like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition or even an issue of Life magazine, there’s a good reason. These high-end photo displays and glossy spreads help retailers sell products online. Retailers are pouring more money into catalog design, including expensive photo shoots, because they find this drives online and in-store sales. Catalogs and other hard copy advertising act as bait to lure the customer into online or brick-and-mortar shopping.

    So it would seem that physical stores and hard-copy ads are not dead; they are evolving to complement a retailer’s digital presence. As a Wall Street Journal article noted, the catalog is like “a store window display, and a source of inspiration, the way roaming through store aisles can be.” Bonobos, a menswear store that advertises better-fitting pants, started to dabble in catalog mailings and found they had a significant impact on sales. The company found that 20 percent of its new customers had received a catalog, and those that do get catalogs spend 1.5 times as much as new shoppers who don’t receive a catalog.

    But the convergence of digital and physical shopping goes beyond the continuing popularity of catalogs. Retailers can no longer view online sales and sales at physical stores in isolation. Customers are browsing and shopping using both mediums jointly. These days many consumers use online research before they make a purchase in a physical store, what is known as webrooming. They also browse physical merchandise in stores before buying an item online, a practice called showrooming. According a report by Accenture, 78 percent of survey respondents have used webrooming and 72 percent of respondents have used showrooming.

    Clearly, the Postal Service benefits from more catalogs in the mail and ensuing parcel fulfillment. But it would also benefit from a surge in advertising directed at both the physical and online presence simultaneously. For example, at the most recent PostalVision 2020 conference, retailers showed how they are embedding digital advertising into physical objects. Marks and Spencer is producing a catalog that customers can scan and go directly to the company’s online catalog where they can make purchases. Ikea has a catalog that allows customers to see what furniture would look like in their house. Advertisers could embed digital coupons into advertisements that allow recipients either to use the coupon in the physical store or scan it and go directly to the website with the discount code activated.

    What do you think? Will embedding digital advertising into physical mail help to maintain or stem the decline in advertising mail? What other opportunities could the Postal Service benefit from related to the convergence of digital and physical shopping?

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