• on Aug 5th, 2013 in Delivery & Collection | 2 comments

    Global e-commerce sales topped $1 trillion for the first time in 2012 and they are expected to grow another 19 percent this year, according to data from research firm eMarketer.com. While North America leads the world in online sales, Asia is expected to take the mantle by the end of this year. China drives Asia’s growth and this year it should surpass Japan as the world’s second largest e-commerce behind the United States and its $385 billion in online sales.

    This global boom in e-commerce has helped to fuel growth in the package delivery market, prompting the shipping giants, including the U.S. Postal Service, to jostle for shares of this market. The global e-commerce surge has also benefited American companies, who are looking to foreign customers to expand sales and revenues. Surprisingly, a number of well-known retailers only began offering international shipping from their websites a few years ago, including Macy’s, Williams Sonoma, J. Crew, and Crate and Barrel. One reason for the late entry is that shipping beyond the United States is not so simple. As a New York Times article noted last year, the problems include customs, addressing, and postal and shipping fees. In some cases, the cost to ship the package could double the total cost of the order.

    Another hurdle is package returns. Even as retailers figure out how best to reach their overseas customers, they are discovering that customers find it difficult to return packages. The Postal Service recognized an opportunity to simplify that process for online retailers and later this month it will begin a market test of a new international e-commerce return service. International Merchandise Return Service will allow foreign consumers to return unwanted products purchased from American retailers’ websites back to the U.S. The service creates return labels with postage payment, allowing the buyer to print off a label and return the item through the post.

    Modeled after its domestic returns service, the Postal Service expects International Merchandise Return Service to simplify international returns for customers and improve their overall experience, which should encourage even more online shopping. The Postal Service will test the service for 2 years on online sales to Canada and Australia, negotiating prices and agreements with American companies that participate.

    What other ways could the Postal Service improve the international shipping experience for retailers and their customers? How else could the Postal Service tap into the global e-commerce market? Do any of its domestic services provide good templates or lend themselves to adoption for the international market?

  • on Jul 29th, 2013 in Products & Services | 9 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service uses a variety of strategies and media – including direct mail, television, radio, and sponsorships – to advertise, market, and promote its products and services. These efforts also help to build brand awareness for the Postal Service. Some campaigns have succeeded, such as the Priority Mail Flat Rate box campaign, “If it fits, it ships®.” Other efforts have been less successful.

    Over the years, the Postal Service has faced an advertising conundrum. Some have complained that a government monopoly shouldn’t be spending money to advertise. Others have grumbled that the Postal Service isn’t doing enough to promote its products and services, particularly compared to its competitors. Certainly, the Postal Service’s current financial condition restricts its advertising budget. Then, there have been concerns about how well the Postal Service has managed and monitored advertising contracts, which one of our audit reports documented earlier this year. The Postal Service took corrective actions and has new contracts in place.

    Undoubtedly, we live in an age of competitive advertising. Every product the Postal Service has faces competition, even the monopoly products. The Postal Service needs to use advertising to promote its products, services, and the brand itself. The question might be: What is the most effective way for the Postal Service to advertise? Should campaigns focus on traditional media, or focus on new media, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?

    The Postal Service’s upcoming launch of an ad campaign might provide insights on the best possible strategy. It plans to kick off a nationwide multi-channel advertising campaign in August to promote its Priority Mail changes, which include a “simplification” of Priority Mail services and a name change for Express Mail. For some customers, the new longer name of Priority Mail Express, and the revised Priority Mail service offerings of 1-, 2- or 3-days might actually seem more complicated than simplified. A successful advertising campaign would reduce that confusion.

    Share your thoughts on the Postal Service’s advertising strategy and its recent campaigns. How effective have they been? What changes would you like to see?

  • on Jul 19th, 2013 in Labor | 43 comments

    Matching workforce to workload has been a long-term struggle for the U.S. Postal Service. In its banner years, when volume was increasing, the Postal Service often found it difficult to quickly reduce workhours to offset seasonal dips in mail volume. Over the past 6 years, as volumes have steadily declined, the Postal Service has done a better job of matching its work hours to its workload. It has its lowest number of career employees in 25 years and productivity has seen steady cumulative improvement.

    Yet finding that perfect match remains elusive. In recent years, the difficulties are evident in an increased use of overtime hours. In a recent audit report, our auditors found three districts with their highest overtime rates during the past five years, and one district where employees received the highest overtime dollars. In this latter district, the Postal Service paid seven mail handlers between $65,000 and $76,000 each for overtime workhours in FY 2012, resulting in their salaries more than doubling. Overall, overtime hours accounted for more than 7 percent of total workhours in both fiscal years (FY) 2011 and 2012. The rate is well above the Postal Service’s target rate of 5 percent. The Postal Service’s paid overtime costs have been steadily increasing the past 4 years. They totaled $3.5 billion in FY 2012 compared to $2.5 billion in FY 2009.

    The Postal Service uses overtime hours to provide flexibility and meet operational requirements without having to increase overall staffing levels. This has been a useful tool over the past few years, as the Postal Service has consolidated and closed facilities, and seen the departure of thousands of employees. Overtime usage has allowed the Postal Service to quickly adjust its workforce as it transitions to a leaner network and makes the necessary organizational changes.

    Still, the OIG found opportunities for tighter controls on overtime usage. The OIG review of the four districts determined that the Postal Service could reduce overtime usage by establishing a plan to address staffing vacancies, better aligning workforce to workload, and implementing plans that align mail arrival times with carrier schedules so carriers aren’t waiting on mail to arrive at delivery units, then spending overtime hours delivering the mail.

    Please share your thoughts on the Postal Service’s use of overtime. Is it the best tool for managing workhours during consolidations, closures, and realignments?  If not, are there better tools and approaches? What steps do you think the Postal Service could take to  minimize use of overtime pay?

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