• on Aug 13th, 2012 in Products & Services | 29 comments
    More than 40 million Americans change their address each year, which means the U.S. Postal Service forwards an awful lot of mail. In fiscal year 2010, it forwarded 1.2 billion pieces. Under the Postal Service’s regulations, customers who fill out a change of address form have their mail forwarded to their new address for 12 months after the move. Mail forwarding costs the Postal Service almost $300 million a year. The cost to return mail to sender is another $800 million. The cost of mail forwarding – and returning to sender and treating as waste -- is baked into the overall First Class Mail rates, so all customers effectively pay for this service whether they use it or not. Canada Post has taken a different approach to mail forwarding, charging recipients either an annual or semi-annual fee when they move. Residential customers pay $75 for 12 months of forwarding and business customers pay $235. These prices increase slightly if the person or business moves to another province. The Canada Post model extricates the costs from the overall First Class Mail rate and is structured so recipients pay for the service, but only if they use it. Some U.S. business customers have requested that the Postal Service explore new pricing and product options to reduce the costs of forwarding and returning mail to sender. Would a model similar to the Canada Post one work in the U.S. or would residential recipients, in particular, feel like they were being charged for a service they thought was free? Should the sender pay for forwarding instead of the recipients? What would happen if recipients or senders decided against paying for forwarding? Would total costs merely go up since return to sender mail costs more than twice as much as forwarding per piece? Are there other alternatives? Share your thoughts below.
  • on Aug 6th, 2012 in Finances: Cost & Revenue | 10 comments
    The Postal Service has built a strong brand name around service, trust, and security. Few other organizations can lay claim to such a strong brand, one with more than 200 years of history and cultivated by the Postal Service’s consistent fulfillment of its mission to securely deliver mail to every American, regardless of location, at a reasonable price. For 6 straight years, the Ponemon Institute has named the Postal Service the most trusted government agency and one of the top 10 most trusted businesses in the nation. Many postal observers have encouraged the Postal Service to leverage this “trusted brand” to expand its offerings in the digital market. But a steady drumbeat of bad news over the past few years around its financial situation, potential cuts in service, and uncertainty over its retail and network downsizing plans has unsettled stakeholders. The question many of them ask is whether the ongoing negative news coverage could be hurting the overall brand. Even the PMG noted earlier this year that the mailing industry is experiencing a “crisis in confidence.” Lingering uncertainty about the Postal Service’s future could further erode confidence. Further, competitors can use the turmoil to their advantage, touting their own services as easy and reliable in the face of uncertainty. What do you think? Have the ongoing news reports about the Postal Service’s finances and uncertain future affected your view of the organization? Do you think these reports hurt the Postal Service brand? Or is the Postal Service doing the best it can under the circumstances?
  • on Jul 9th, 2012 in Strategy & Public Policy | 1 comment
    Detail from Iron Mountain, Michigan
    Post Office Mural

    Some Americans may be aware that Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general of the United States, appointed by the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. But, unfortunately, our history lessons have otherwise overlooked the Post Office’s contribution to the development of the nation. A new paper entitled Postal Service Contributions to National Infrastructure describes some of the ways the Postal Service was used to support national infrastructure growth. For example, did you know?

    • In the early years of the nation, highly subsidized newspaper rates led to the growth of a national media culture.
    • Funding to transport mail supported a stagecoach industry that carried passengers across the nation. This model was later repeated in the early airline industry when mail contracts supported passenger air transportation.
    • The start of rural free delivery at the turn of the 20th century forced farmers and communities to improve the condition of rural roads as a condition of service.

    In these ways, the Post Office Department helped conquer the great distances of the country, fill infrastructure gaps, buoy burgeoning technologies and industries, and bind the nation together. Postal policy decisions also generated important debates about the appropriate roles of the government and the private sector. In the 1840s, a new age of low postal rates and two-way communications was initiated in part because of private sector competition to the monopoly, and the United States was a latecomer to Parcel Post compared to other nations because of concern by the railroads and small rural stores over the incursion into their areas of business. By the 1960s, the Post Office was struggling with inefficiency and a large deficit. The President’s Commission on Postal Organization (known as the Kappel Commission) argued that the Post Office should run more like a business. Since then, the Postal Service’s secondary role in contributing to the expansion of the national infrastructure has lessened. Today, the decentralized and fragmented nature of the digital age may be creating new infrastructure gaps and under-served citizens. Is there again a place for the Postal Service in serving the nation’s infrastructure needs? Or is the Postal Service’s role of supporting new infrastructures behind it? What do you think?

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