on Oct 14th, 2008 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 66 comments
 

The Automated Postal Center (APC) is a self-service kiosk typically placed in Post Office lobbies to provide customers with a convenient alternative to the full-service counter. APCs offer customers a wide range of postal products, services, and information.

Based on the user’s direction via touch screen and PIN pad, APCs can weigh and rate letters, flats, and parcels up to 70 pounds. APCs dispense variable rate postage in any denomination for Express, Priority, First Class, International (under 1 lb), and Parcel Post Mail. APCs also provide customers the option to purchase Delivery Confirmation, Signature Confirmation, Insurance, Certified, and Return Receipt services. APCs allow customers to print Express Mail forms and perform ZIP Code lookup. APCs accept debit, credit, and EBT cards for payment and generate a receipt.

Many APCs are available 24 hours, 7 days per week. There are 2,495 APCs in use today. In its Strategic Transformation Plan, the Postal Service set a goal to double the percent of retail transactions conducted at alternative channels, such as the APC. However, in many cases consumers avoid the APC, and continue to come to the retail counter for transactions.

  • What would motivate you to use the APC kiosk or the internet to purchase Postal products?

  • What other service options could make it easier for you to mail a letter or package?

We invite you to join our discussion by clicking the "Comments" link below.

66 Comments

Postal Leadership forgets we are a government service, we provide a vital communication service to all at a set rate, we are unlike are competitors, UPS, Fedex. They can pick and choose what services they want to offer and to whom.
APC should be in all offices and any place people gather to buy items. The smaller the post office the more the reason there should be an APC there. They should learn a lesson from the banking industry, when they first brought out ATM's people had to coaxed to use them, I remember tellers standing next to the machine with ATM cards so people could try them before activating them to there accounts. I am sure it was years before they turned a profit for the banks. I find it maddening that I have go looking for and APC because Postal management keeps moving them. Recently I had to mail a package I tried to generate a label with postage on a PC, but due to printing problems I had to cancel the label, I would have preferred to got to the closes PO, Bakersfield 93380, and use the APC, but several months ago it was removed, I will end up holding the package to this weekend, and delivering the items my self, another loss opportunity and loss of revenue. The APC shouldn't been seen as competetion to the window clerks but as help, to take care of the easier transactions so the clerks can work with the customers that really need help and to bring in revenue when the lobbies are normally closed.

Yes, I agree. The Postal Service has a great self service machine that is underutilized.

Do you think customers who visit the Post Office shun the APC because they came to get personal window service?

What places should the Postal Service locate APC's (grocery stores, malls, college campus, airports)?

I think these machines are a great service. In fact I would like to see them replace mailboxes, they should be placed in every large apartment complex throughout the country. In fact a smaller model should replace all the blue mailboxes. I should at least be able to purchase a stamp at a mailbox rather than having to go to the post office just to mail a letter. How easy would it be to swipe a card and have a small adhesive stamp dispensed right there at the box.

I love the "stamps at the mailbox" idea! Plus if prices are lower online and slightly lower on APC (thanks to cost savings when not needing so many postal handlers at the counter) more and more people would go online and to APC for their mail sevices. I think in major malls/shopping centers these APC's should be the norm. I can see 5 APC's in a row and people in line to mail out their just purchased and wrapped presents. Its such a time saver!

It was nice kowing that the APC's are available. I had a great experience using it. Also, I have to agree with one of the comments that a smaller version should be put in an apartment complex for those who are at work and cannot necessarily get to the post office. Great way to make posting easier.

expanding on the above:

Can imagine the amount of people that would use the APC during Christmas time if there was a row of about 5 of them at the mall??? I can see the lines already! In Puerto RIco there used to be a post office in the mall and people would purchase and then stand in line. So its a no-brainer. Of course a lot of cost would go into educating the public, but that is only in the beginning. Nothing a few commercial announcements during the holidays and a few posters in the mall entrances wouldn't cure.

Honestly I read the questions and I use APC ALL the time. I prefer not dealing at the counter :) Its much quicker and i know what I want. What would make me use it and the internet services more ??? a discounted price!!! And if the postal service arrives at savings due to the use of APC (and less need for postal clerks) or offering services online, then they SHOULD pass on the savings to the customer!

If USPS offers discounts by using the Internet services even more people (especially small businesses) would prefer to mail their products in such a manner.

Fed-Ex does not offer this convenience, neither does UPS. Therefore, USPS should bank on this and expand.

Ingenious ndf! Advertising and placing five APC's at the mall during holidays when the place is packed would meet customer needs and at the same time educate a large audience. Ideally, the Postal Service would place the APCs in malls with high percentage of foreign shoppers since they would most likely be shipping packages back home. Great idea! Look out FEDEX and UPS!

These machines so far have been notoriously unreliable. The one at Preston King station in Arlington has finally been removed. The long lines at the windows have built up again. Many problems: first, they are useless for most package mailings, which is what requires most people to go to the window. Second, they are off line often. Third, the money-changing mechanisms do not work well, and when they do, they produce change in dollar coins, which are unwieldy. Finally, the window clerks don't seem to pay any attention to them until a customer comes in to complain, and then sigh heavily with greater burden of their jobs when asked to do something about them. The whole experience is time consuming and inefficient. Easier and far more pleasant to go to the local package services store, where a more entrepreneurial attitude reigns.

I think you have the stamp vending maching mixed up with the APC. The APC does alot more than offer stamps! The APC can mail packages via priority mail, first class mail, express mail! Further, one can get zip codes, insurance, and delivery confirmation, In addition, they only accept debit and credit cards so there is no money-changing at all! The APC is very reliable. I would ask that you try an APC. I think you will be impressed!

I use these machines most of the time. They match my schedule, are always available and are easy to use.

Here's an idea to enhance the use of the machines

1) Add a vending machine that offered Christmas and Birthday type envelopes, with stickers that say
" do not open until _______", then, I could shop and wrap, quite easily

2) Installing APC's in the Grocery Store and Costco would take advantage of my normal family routine and eliminate the need for special trips.

Just think of going to Costco, getting a dozen fruit cakes, popping them into decorated bags, adding an address, mailing them, and eliminating the need for carrying them out to my car.

Maybe a bit exaggerated as an example, but the concept works.

Or how about 24 hour grocery stores, high volume during the day and convenient for those who do not work traditional hours.

I know what you mean Teeef. I use a vending machine at the Rosslyn station in Arlington, and if I didn't know a kid who collects those dollar coins, I probably would have mis-spent them as quarters by now! Thanks for your comments about the machine at Preston King, and your experience with the window clerks. I was wondering if the machine you used was a vending machine or if it was an Automated Postal Center (APC). The reason I ask is, as far as I know, the APC only accepts credit and debit cards.

Thats no exaggeration if you know 12 people who like the same fruitcake! I agree that locating APCs in grocery stores makes alot of sense, especially if the store is co-located with some anchor stores or at a mall.

Do you think stores would advertise they have an APC since it might attract enough traffic to increase sales?

One place where I could see them advertising that an APC was available would be at Gas stations. They have a primary product (the gas) that most people buy with credit/debit cards. The stations are trying to draw peole through the doors to buy their impulse/grocery items. So advertising that an APC was available might help get people to come inside. And the customer doesn't have to make another stop. The same reason many of them advertise money orders.

It took me a while to want to try the APC. I am one of those guys that wants hands on service. What got me to use it was the lack of desire to stand on the long line at my "work" office and also the long line at my "home" office. I then started looking for the "small" local offices, figuring that I could get in and out. One was handling the overflow of my work office and the other had a clerk who did a lousy job. I decided to buy a book of stamps from it and it worked out very well. I sent a package from it and that worked out well.
I sent a small package once that had me make an extra purchase in order to get the postage for the package. I didn't understand why. I asked around and no one could come up with an answer. Needless to say I will not use that particular machine again.
Overall I am happy with my limited experience with the APC and will continue with it, because I don't want to wait on long lines.
I think we would be crazy not to put APC's all over the place like ATM's. The potential for revenue is there. Someone walking by would say, "oh yeah, I need some stamps." There are probably more people like me who don't want to stand on long lines.
Some one made the quote about businesses, that I think we'd be smart to listen to, "Grow or die!"

They should have all the priortiy shipping materials available. Shipping with priority would increase revenue and customer satisfaction.

I would love to see APCs at airports, adjacent to the security screening. It is painful to see people have to discard their beloved pocketknife, expensive Tweezerman tweezers, etc., simply because they forgot to take it out of their pocket before leaving for the airport! I believe there would be a ready market for a way to preserve those items by mailing them to themselves, especially if there was a nearby supply of small padded envelopes available for purchase with which to do so.

Dear BMEU Clerk:

You probably had to make an additional purchase at the APC because your purchase has to total at least $1.00. I had to do that once when I only needed to add a few cents postage to a letter.

I used to direct traffic in the lobby area during Christmas rush in a very busy office with three APCs. Majority of the people I helped at the APCs didn't go to the machines first; I had to offer them help and encouragement. However, after they used it, they were delighted to see how easy and time saving it was. Although, there are some issues such as International mailing, APCs are a great asset to the Postal Service if we manage it well.

The problem is the management of the machines. If the drop slot is jammed and stamps are out all the time, nobody want to approch the machine. An office should have multilple APCs and one clerk must be assigned to it at all times to maintain the machines and assist the customers.

I like the direction the Postal Service is going - but I think we need to pick up the speed to keep up with the ever changing world. People want to keep a fast pace and are not afraid to use technology - and the more we offer the revenue we can gain. Some people don't like the APC says it takes jobs - but do ATM machine take Tellers jobs? Let's keep moving forward!

Grannybunny,
The original purchase was over a dollar. I think it was over $2.

Disney Diva
Are you suggesting employeees may be fearful that the APC’s will take jobs?

APC at airports is a VERY good idea!!! I still remember very vividly running around Memphis airport at 6am in the morning trying to find a way to mail keys to my friends. (They were supposed to feed my fish while I was on vacation but I forgot to leave them my keys.) I ended up spending $40 on FedEx from Cancun to DC.

Do anyone have any experience with delivery confirmation results. Not just the stuff they put out in link either.
I used delivery confirmation on the package I talked about about and there was a scan for acceptance because it was the APC and the next scan was 4 days later. Granted it was parcel post, but I would have thought that it would be scanned in along the way.
I also have not had any luck any other time I have used it. it seems that for the system to work we have to scan it in.

I would use APC if it was located in a convenient place. This would help me to avoid using leave from work to get to the post office before closing.

The last 2 time I visited my local Giant Food Store there was a line up at the DVD Rental self-service machine while at the same time a customer was using the Coinstar self-service machine nearby. It seems that self-service is much more popular than in the past. Where would you like to see APCs located?

Dear BMEU Clerk: From the customer's standpoint, the only required scans on Delivery Confirmation are for delivery efforts, not for processing along the way. However, many units also scan these items prior to "the last mile." These internal scans are accessible to ACE Users via the Blue page. The new Intelligent Mail barcodes will make it possible to locate items throughout the system. In a related vein -- related to APC's, anyway -- according to today's Link, there is a FULL-SERVICE POST OFFICE in the Pittsburgh International Airport!

Grannybunny,
It is now 11/4. I talked to my daughter in law, she said he got one package a week later, (as expected, the scanned one.) The second one has not arrived and only has an acceptance scan.
I still maintain that scans are useless if the employees along the way don't do them.
2 points. Why would I try and sell a service, to the public, that I can't back up with personal experience and why would I want to waste my money again?

Discounts and other incentives like "Free" Delivery Confirmation with purchase would motivate me to use an APC kiosk. In addition, make services to mail packages internationally on the APC kiosk.

I used the APC for the first time yesterday at the Aspen Hill Post Office. What a breeze! I mailed two large envelopes needing weight and postage. There was a line of about 10 people at the counter and one person at the APC when I arrived. My time from the car to the APC and back was 6 minutes. Using that machine is soooo easy it will forever change the way I mail!

Answer man:
I am glad you tried the APC. It is really easy! If others would give it a try they would also be repeat users because it is so convenient especially when the lines are long or the Post Office is closed. In addition, the Postal Service would have the confidence to place the kiosk in retail spaces for sure!

I see the APC in the postal lobby all the time but I do not seem to have the time to figure out what it can do for me. My bet is that I am not alone. The Postal Service has done a terrible job of marketing the machine. If the Post Service is serious about the APC machine then it would educate the public via commercials or with personnel in the lobbies. Finally, the APC should be placed where the market is.

Snap:
One huge problem I have with my local APC: It is not available when the Post Office is closed, which is after 5 PM on weekdays! After 5, the APC seems to taunt late arrivers from behind the locked glass doors. The self-service machine could serve their needs if only it were not behind locked doors.

Answer Man:
I wonder if not having access to the APC during after hours could be why some of the Post Offices are not getting the use expected.

I work graveyard and the APC at my local post office is in the lobby. (24 hour access). I use it regularly and it works great since I am rarely on a daytime schedule.

I'll have to find an APC and try it out.
Sounds intresting.

You can find an APC Kiosk by inquiring on USPS.com. I think once you use it you will always use it!

Thanks, found out on USPS.com closest APC is 32 miles away.

Only 32 miles. I found out the closest one to me is 92 miles away. However that distance must be as the Crow flies because where they say it is is over 120 miles away by the shortest road.

Can these be placed in the PO Box area where there is 24/7 access?

Post Offices locate the APC in the PO Box area where they can. The APC is certainly a welcome addition where it is available during hours the Post Office counter is closed.

The Postal Service have APC's at many locations in the PO Box areas in the lobby with 24 hour acess. Can you think of other locations you think the APC could be placed?

gift shops at high traffic tourist sites.

(see post below)

Any fairly safe 24 hour store.
The obvious eg. Walmart, grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores(ECON,WAWA).

Maybe even big truck stops. Seems like there would be a need there for packaging supplies and an APC.

I like the idea of having APCs at malls and airports and other high traffic locations. However, if people are using them to mail packages you almost have to have a human there full time because whatever system you put in place will fill up quickly (unlike with letters and flats).

In my day to day life I would probably make regular use of one at the grocery store (mailing bills while buying groceries - no extra stops!).

Another cool place would be near the gift shops in national parks, museums, amusement parks and other touristy places. You could buy the postcard, write it out right then, and mail it. No having to get to it later. In this case you would need a high volume site like a National Park, the National Mall, Disneyworld or the Smithsonian. The units are relatively unobtrusive so you might even be able to get one in or near living history sites like Williamsburg, Virginia.

Just some suggestions that might be good places to try it out. But really anyplace with high foot traffic where someone might like to mail a momento would work.

(YOUR QUESTION - What would motivate me to use the internet to purchase postal products?)

I have a couple

1st - everyone knows you can't tape over USPS postage -your letter/package comes back.: I don't keep stickers in my house. I don't know if I can print out my postal postage purchase on regular paper and then tape it securely to my package/letter. Exposed postage = torn off postage.

2nd - I know about the 13oz rule.: I do not own a scale. How am I supposed to know if I have to go to the window or not?

3rd - I still have to take parcels to a mailbox as I won't leave it out for carrier pick up. And no -- working graveyard -- I will not schedule for the carrier to come some time today to pick it up. Easier to drop it off.

(Don't worry USPS you are not the only business not user-friendly to those of us working nontradional schedules)

To end on a positive note I am not worried about identity theft from using your service. The USPS has a lot of security measures in place to protect their customers. This is not something that would keep me from using your services.

I think the APCs are a great idea. Reminds me of the transition to self checkout registers at the grocery stores. However, it may help the transition to have a real person near to APCs to assist customers as they use the new technology. The grocery stores have realized that having a real person to assist the self checkout systems is critical to making the automated system accepted by customers.

I would like to see the USPS jump on board the electronic age... WE CAN do this by thinking outside the "stamp" so to speak, by offering our customer base e-certified options, e-fax services through our secure servers that time date stamps everything (electronic postmark)that could (if done right) could ultimately eliminate the need for faxes... Atty's, financial institutions, CPA's etc... sending all those documents that they fax now, through our e-USPS secure servers... all for a fee that the USPS collects, without ever having actually touched a piece of paper... e-services such as internet cafe's at USPS installations with a coffee machine, snacks etc...

the APC is a great complement to the USPS services. it is not intended to replace the window service. i think we will see more and more of them strategically placed throughout America going forward. I luuuuuuuuv using the one near my home when i get in the EBAY mode. it's sooooooooooo convenient. have a great day!

The APC in my post office lobby doesn't dispense variable rate postage "in any denomination" -- only in denominations of $1.00 or more (besides offering a sheet of 42-cent stamps). In this way it is not a satisfactory substitute for the vending machines it replaced, but with a little re-programming it could be.

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