• on Sep 2nd, 2013 in Labor | 4 comments

    For many Americans, Labor Day marks the end of summer and a day to grill hot dogs or enjoy the pool one last time before it closes for the season. Labor Day’s history is often overlooked. It was started to salute the social and economic achievement of American workers, and to pay tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength and prosperity of the country.

    The Labor Department says on its website: “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

    So we take the opportunity in our annual Labor Day blog to salute all the postal workers who keep the mail moving and ensure the Postal Service fulfills its mission of binding the nation together. We also note the Postal Service is the foundation that supports a larger $1 trillion mailing industry. Keeping the mail moving means another 8.4 million workers are enjoying Labor Day as well. Among the other industries that rely on a healthy Postal Service are the paper and printing industries and their suppliers, direct mail design, fulfillment companies, private delivery services, and mail management departments across all industries.

    While the Postal Service is the engine that drives a major industry, it is also often an important part of the local community. The annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive is so effective because of the Postal Service’s presence in every community. Postal workers are often the first people back at work in areas affected by a natural disaster, providing critical deliveries of medicine and checks even when power is out and roads are blocked. Every year, postal employees around the country risk their own safety to save the lives of customers they serve. In 2012, the Postal Service recognized 313 of these employee heroes. The Carrier Alert program relies on the presence and awareness of letter carriers to monitor the well-being of elderly and disabled customers. And so many other deeds go unheralded.

    So on this Labor Day we salute not only America’s postal workers, but the American workforce.

  • on Aug 26th, 2013 in Products & Services | 7 comments

    Everyone loves getting something for free. Soon, you may have to look no further than your mailbox for a free sample. The U.S. Postal Service is offering consumer package goods companies and other direct mailers a discount on sending product samples in the mail through the end of September.

    “They’ll buy it, if they try it” is how the Postal Service is marketing its Product Samples mail promotion. It would seem that many marketers agree with that tagline.  A marketing expert quoted in a recent article in Marketplace called sending samples “perhaps the single most effective marketing method there is, especially for new products.” But difficulty in measuring samples’ success, and a rise over the years in postage for sending samples through the mail, has made it something of a lost art. Some former users of product samples say the Postal Service’s pricing changes in the late 1990s helped kill this mail product.

    Product samples have some challenges, however. One is how best to track sales leads from the distribution of a sample product. For example, a company handing out shampoo at a gym might not know if the sample was the reason someone later bought the shampoo. Marketers frequently include coupons or directions to an online offer. Coupons are ideal accompaniments to a mailed product sample, allowing the company to track response of the offer. The bigger challenge may be finding a workable price for product samples. The Postal Service needs to be able to find a price at which the product makes money, but is not so high as to make it unattractive to marketers.

    Still, the biggest boon to the Postal Service might be in how Product Samples increase the value of mail. You can’t send a product sample by text message or email. The Postal Service has designed Product Samples to raise awareness of its Simple Samples offering, which gives users flat-rate pricing, volume discounts, and simpler mail-preparation requirements, including no need for outer packaging. Keeping it simple should help as well.

    How do you feel about receiving samples in the mail? Are you more likely to purchase something if you have a favorable reaction to a sample? Could a resurgence of marketers using sampling techniques help improve the value of mail?

  • on Aug 19th, 2013 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 10 comments

    Alternative fueled vehicles are gaining renewed interest with the abundance of cheap, domestic natural gas. Compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles took off in the 1990s as infrastructure development surged. Service stations then declined for a decade but are now resurging. Liquefied natural gas and ethanol are other options, as is a new clean fuel called GDiesel, a combination of conventional diesel and natural gas that can be used on conventional diesel engines without modifications.

    With so many attractive options and an aging delivery fleet in need of an upgrade, the time seems ripe for the U.S. Postal Service to convert or retrofit its fleet. But a quick overhaul remains problematic given a significant hurdle: the Postal Service lacks capital to make a major investment. Another question is where the Postal Service should place its bets. Should it convert to an electric fleet or go with CNG or are the emerging hybrid technologies the way to go? Should it put all its eggs in one basket or should it convert parts of the fleet to different fuels? How does the Postal Service remain flexible enough to adapt to the best technology knowing that rapid innovation in the alternative fuel sector means the next best thing could be right around the corner?

    The Postal Service has set a target of increasing alternative fuel use in postal vehicles by 10 percent annually through 2015. It also has goals for reducing postal-vehicle petroleum use and contract transportation petroleum use by 20 percent annually in that time. In its 2012 Sustainability Report, the Postal Service notes that it continues to take proactive steps to increase the use of alternative fuels. It is testing many types of alternative fuels, including fuel cell vehicle, electric long-life vehicles, and new hybrid technologies. “Providing affordable delivery service requires our use of alternate fuels that are conveniently available and competitively priced,” the Postal Service said in the report.

    Converting or retrofitting the fleet to an alternative fuel has to make sense financially and logistically based on how the Postal Service operates. Lower fuel costs make the financial benefits of alternative fuels easier to justify. Their environmental benefits are well documented. But logistics remain an issue. If refueling stations are not conveniently or strategically located, the Postal Service has to travel further from its routes. This can affect service and costs.

    Share your thoughts on the best strategy for an alternative fuel fleet. Should the Postal Service throw in with one type of fuel or continue experimenting with a number of options? Should it set more aggressive goals for reducing its use of petroleum and increasing its alternative fuel use? Or does its financial situation limit its ability to move aggressively in those areas?

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