• on Mar 31st, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 5 comments

    That ethereal voice was enough for Ray Kinsella to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield in the movie Field of Dreams. But is this approach a sound business model for same-day delivery providers? It seems to be the model they are following: provide same-day delivery in anticipation that customers will eventually consider it standard practice – and actually want it.

    Study after study shows consumers shop online mainly because of low prices and free delivery. Consumers consistently rank “fast shipping” toward the bottom of their reasons for returning to an e-tailer’s website. And yet e-tailers, brick-and-mortar stores, startups, and even the U.S. Postal Service have embarked on the quest to provide same-day delivery service.

    Amazon, Nordstrom, and Walmart are among retailers offering same-day delivery in select markets for orders placed by a certain time. Startups such as Deliv and Instacart are getting in on the action, providing same-day delivery services for retailers in malls or for grocery stores. And, in an interesting convergence, eBay and Google have partnered with traditional retailers not only to deliver their products within hours of a receiving an order, but also to sell them online through consumer-friendly platforms.

    The Postal Service stepped into this market with a short-lived pilot project in San Francisco and now a refined test in New York City. FedEx and UPS do not appear to be jumping in wholly with a same-day service aimed at the retail e-commerce channel, instead offering individual customers some a la cart same-day options.

    Overall, the prices providers are charging for same-day delivery range from about $6 to $10. This is roughly in line with the value consumers place on these services, according to surveys. The price point is good news for consumers, but raises questions about same-day delivery’s sustainability. According to some analysts, many of the same-day services are money losers. Still, as the late Steve Jobs understood well, consumers’ preferences change as offerings are refined. Demand for same-day delivery could increase in the future, which means those already in the market could have an advantage over late entrants.

    Share your thoughts on same-day delivery service. Is this something you want? Are you willing to pay extra for it? If so, how much and for what types of products? Where is the best opportunity for the Postal Service in this market?  

  • 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 Nov 13th, 2013 in Delivery & Collection | 6 comments

    This week the Postal Service announced plans to move into one of the few remaining frontiers of package delivery – Sundays.

    Under a new negotiated service agreement approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission, e-tailing giant Amazon.com will use the Postal Service’s Parcel Select service to ship everything from clothing to garden tools on Sundays. The program is running now in the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, with a rollout planned in 2014 in Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, and Phoenix, to name a few.

    Sunday delivery isn’t exactly new. The Postal Service delivers 7 days a week using the premium Priority Mail Express product. So, what’s really new is the low cost of the service – making it a solid option for consumers.

    Utilizing the Postal Service’s ubiquitous delivery network Amazon.com is able to keep its costs down and, for example, give its Amazon Prime members who get unlimited, free two-day shipping the flexibility to get packages on Sundays.

    The Postal Service faces stiff competition as it seeks to grow its package business and take advantage of the explosion in e-commerce. But it has seen significant gains in its parcel sector through innovations such as flat rate Priority Mail packaging.

    With this latest move, the Postal Service is looking to strengthen its market position in business-to-consumer shipping and to further distinguish itself from its main competitors – FedEx and UPS.

    What do you think of the Amazon.com partnership? Do you foresee operational, staffing or other problems for the Postal Service as it ramps up for Sunday deliveries? Will this be a net financial win for the Postal Service and its customers? 

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