• on Oct 25th, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 8 comments
    A recent consumer study released by Epsilon Targeting shows direct mail is still important to us. As a method to advertise goods and services, direct mail plays a major role in many consumer decisions — especially among young adults. The market research firm conducted a survey of adults in more than 4,700 U.S. and Canadian households, looking at their preferences among the traditional and new media channels for obtaining information. The survey confirmed findings from 2008, which noted that consumers are using a larger number of media, with their choices influenced by factor, such as convenience, trust, depth of content, and the “green factor.” The survey indicated younger consumers not only found direct mail to be more trustworthy than other channels, including online, but also found that it was the preferred channel for obtaining information. In the 14 consumer categories covered in the survey, American respondents in the 18-34 year age bracket preferred mail as an information source by a wide margin in almost every category, except travel. Although there’s little doubt e-mail and social networking have found a way into the marketing mix, the findings of this study show that direct mail and other “offline” media still play a role with consumers across every age. Does direct mail still play a role in your shopping choices? Let us know! This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).
  • on Oct 4th, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 26 comments
    On September 30th, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) turned down the request by the Postal Service for an exigent price increase averaging 5.6 percent across all market-dominant products, such as First-Class Mail and Periodicals. Although current law cape increases in these products to the inflation rate, the PRC can consider rate increases beyond the cap if the Postal Service has been affected by “extraordinary or exceptional circumstances.” In this decision, the PRC agreed with the Postal Service’s contention that the economic recession was an exceptional circumstance, but it ruled that the Postal Service did not show how the exigent rate request was due to the recession. The ruling also tied cash flow problems the Postal Service currently faces to current laws that require prefunding of retiree health benefits. An OIG study found that the Postal Service has been overcharged $75 billion in its funding of pension liabilities, an amount that could be used to fund current and future retiree health benefits. In a statement addressing the PRC’s decision, Postmaster General Jack Potter expressed disappointment. However, he said that the PRC’s acknowledgement of the large financial risk caused by the prefunding payments for retiree health benefits was encouraging. The statement notes that the Postal Service is still reviewing the PRC’s decision and determining its course of action, but it lists areas for legislative relief to keep the Postal Service viable. October 1st was the start of the new fiscal year for the Postal Service. As the Postal Service enters 2011, what do you think its next step should be?
  • on Sep 29th, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 7 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service is used to delivering large amounts of mail. Last year, it delivered more than 177 billion pieces. More mail pieces are sent per person in the United States than almost anywhere else in the world. But mail volume has been declining. How will the Postal Service change if volumes continue to fall? Is the Postal Service even financially sustainable at lower volume levels? The Office of Inspector General (OIG) asked the George Mason University School of Public Policy (GMU) to find out. The results of GMU’s work appear in a paper released today on our website. GMU researchers looked at how mail volumes of 150, 125, 100, and 75 billion would affect the Postal Service’s financial position and cost structure. Their results are encouraging. They found that the Postal Service is financially sustainable at volume levels down to 100 billion pieces per year, although price increases above inflation would be needed. The cost structure of the Postal Service would also change at lower volume levels. For example, delivery would account for a much larger share of total costs. GMU researchers also looked at the effect of various cost reduction initiatives and how they would impact the price increases necessary to break even. The paper describes their results and a description of the model they used for their analysis. What do you think? What are the biggest challenges for the Postal Service at lower volume levels? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

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