• 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 Nov 26th, 2012 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 18 comments
    This holiday season many of us will find ourselves rushing from one errand to the next, often visiting a variety of stores to accomplish all of our tasks. Wouldn’t “one-stop shopping” be easier? Wouldn’t it be nice to get everything from shopping to wrapping to shipping taken care of in a single trip? Locations offering a multitude of services potentially increase foot traffic because of the convenience they offer. They also create opportunities for the company to sell more products and services to its customers. In other countries, such as Sweden and Australia, the trend has been toward placing postal counters in grocery stores and pharmacies, often located in shopping malls. Customers can buy stamps or ship their packages while they are shopping for food and other staples. In the United States, grocery and other retail stores sell stamps at check-out counters, but do not offer shipping options. Office supply and other approved shipping stores offer a range of Postal Service mailing services including Priority and Express mail. Customers find that using these stores for their mailing needs saves time and effort because many of these retail outlets have longer hours than post offices and are conveniently located. E-commerce and mobile commerce have proven to be a popular choice for consumers who enjoy the convenience of shopping at home. Online retailers ship directly to the purchaser’s home, or wrap and ship gift purchases directly to their recipients. If customers want to wrap the package or gift themselves, the Postal Service’s Carrier Pick-up service will retrieve the package at their doorstep for shipping. While e-commerce and mobile commerce can offer purchasing, wrapping, and shipping from home, some people prefer physically browsing and purchasing items from brick-and-mortar retail outlets. This holiday season, a shopper might first visit a retail outlet to make your purchases, go home and wrap the gifts, and then go back out to ship the item. That's at least three trips and two lines, just to send one package! Does shopping, purchasing, wrapping, and sending your item in one stop sound better? With postal counters in strategic locations, all of your needs could be met in one stop. Would gift-wrapping services be an added bonus? If Post Office functions could be moved into retail spaces, what areas or types of stores best lend themselves to this effort? Share your ideas in the comment section below.
  • on Jun 11th, 2012 in Products & Services | 14 comments
    A 100-year old temperance-era law prohibits the Postal Service from shipping alcohol and benefiting from the growth in online purchases of wine, beer, and other spirits. As states have loosened their restrictions on inter-state alcohol shipments, FedEx and UPS have seized this burgeoning opportunity. The Postal Service needs to secure new sources of revenue in an era of declining mail volume. Shipping of alcohol could create an additional revenue stream, while capitalizing on the Postal Service’s strength in last-mile delivery. Shipping of alcohol would require the Postal Service to establish a strict set of rules. First, it would have to be sure no one under age 21 receives alcoholic shipments. Second, it would have to comply with varying state laws, some of which prohibit the shipment of out-of-state alcohol directly to consumers. Other states allow direct shipments to consumers but restrict those shipments to producers, such as wineries. The Postal Service has indicated it would put proper restrictions in place, such as requiring an adult signature for shipments of alcohol. It even appears to have ideas around flat rate boxes that could hold two, four, or six bottles of wine. With the right restrictions in place, should the Postal Service be allowed to ship alcohol and tap into this growing market? Or should an organization that is part of the federal government stay out of the business of shipping alcohol given the negative images sometimes associated with alcohol consumption? What do you think? Share your comments below. This blog is hosted by the OIG's Office of Audit.

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