• on Jul 12th, 2013 | 62 comments

    A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but what about Parcel Post and Express Mail? If these products have new names, will they be more appealing to customers? We are about to find out. 

    Later this month, the U.S. Postal Service will change the name of Express Mail to Priority Mail Express. Earlier this year, the Postal Service renamed Parcel Post to Standard Post. These name changes also come with some product enhancements, including improved tracking and insurance services. All of these changes are designed to strengthen the Postal Service’s shipping business in the rapidly expanding package delivery arena.

    Parcel Post, one of the Postal Service’s oldest products and among its best-known brands, just celebrated its 100th anniversary. Its origin in 1913 is memorialized in stone at the old Post Office Department headquarters in Washington, D.C, where it is among a list of historic postal products inscribed in the building’s façade. In 1977, Express Mail became one of the few new “subclasses” created since passage of the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act. Since then, it has been known as the Postal Service’s premier express mail service, providing overnight delivery to some destinations. Of course, postal products should evolve to meet market needs, not remain frozen in time like an etching in stone.

    Despite the long history of these products, the Postal Service believes that these rebranding changes will reinvigorate them and make them more competitive. In particular, the Express Mail change seeks to capitalize on the strong Priority Mail brand and the positive associations with it. Express Mail volume has fallen three times faster than Priority Mail since 2006, and Priority Mail is 20 times larger than Express Mail; and unlike Express Mail, Priority Mail has seen recent volume growth. Also, the Postal Service said “Priority Mail Express” will allow it to offer more definitive service expectations. Priority Mail will no longer be called a “2-3 day” service, and instead customers will get 1-day, 2-day, or 3-day service based on the specific origin-destination characteristics of the package.  

    Do you think the name change will reinvigorate Express Mail? Will customers be confused by the name changes? Are the name changes important from a sales and marketing perspective, or are there other service-related changes that would help? 

    Regarding Standard Post, does the jettisoning of the established “Parcel Post” brand strengthen the Postal Service’s position in the shipping business? Does the inclusion of “Standard” in the title make it too similar to other postal products, notably the mail category of Standard Mail, which is used by business mailers to send advertising? Or is the name likely to be unimportant to users of this ground parcel service?

  • on Jul 3rd, 2013 in Delivery & Collection | 14 comments

    “If you are generally well-equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse, you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.”U.S. Assistant Surgeon General Ali S. Khan, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Hurricanes, floods, wild fires, snowstorms, tornadoes, zombie apocalypse – you name it, the U.S. Postal Service is prepared to deliver. Part of the Postal Service’s extensive operational planning includes contingency plans to make sure mail gets delivered safely after every type of weather event, power outage, and undead uprising. Ok, maybe the Postal Service isn’t preparing for a zombie apocalypse, but its emergency preparedness plans could seemingly handle even that type of catastrophe.

    The Postal Service’s immediate priority after a storm or major weather event is the safety of its employees. Once safety issues are addressed, the prompt delivery of mail and packages to affected areas becomes the focus. The resumption of mail delivery to a disaster-affected area is often a welcome event in recovery. Citizens are frequently without power and phone service, which severely limits communications. Mail delivery allows for the exchange of information, including relief checks and government services, and can even provide a small feeling of a “return to normalcy” for citizens. Sometimes after a storm, a letter carrier is the first direct contact a citizen has with another person. Postal employees are often dealing with disasters in their own homes, yet show up faithfully for work.

    Halfway into 2013 and the year is shaping up to be an historic weather one. Winter storm Nemo, May tornadoes in Oklahoma, wild fires in Arizona, late spring snowstorms from Arkansas to Minnesota, flooding in many parts of the country, and record-breaking heat in the West all took place in just the first 6 months of this year. And hurricane season has only just started. This puts added pressure on the Postal Service to have sufficient controls in place to ensure employee safety and mitigate interruptions to service. Adding to the contingency challenge is the fact that postal facilities are often damaged in these weather events, forcing rerouting of mail and relocation of retail services. For example, the October 2012 Hurricane Sandy, which caused extensive power outages and infrastructure disruptions up and down the east coast, resulted in numerous postal facilities being damaged.

    Share with us your experiences with the Postal Service during major weather events. Could the Postal Service improve its preparation and response efforts in dealing with extreme weather to minimize disruptions? 

  • on Jun 28th, 2013 | 21 comments

    Postal customers often choose to stand in line at the counter of their local Post Office, even as an open self-service kiosk sits nearby. In some cases, customers might prefer to interact with a window clerk, perhaps to make sure they purchase the right service or because they want to buy a specialty service not available from the automated kiosk.

    But some customers might be unaware that they can get many of the same services at a kiosk that they get from the window. For example, they can buy postage; weigh and send packages; use the ZIP Code lookup feature; and obtain fairly large quantities of First-Class Mail stamps (up to 100 self-adhesive packets). With about 2,500 kiosks in 2,300 retail locations and many of them accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, kiosks are convenient and fairly simple to use.

    Consumers have grown so accustomed to using self-service kiosks, including automated teller machines and airline ticketing kiosks, that many people barely remember a time before them. In grocery stores across the country, customers are now choosing to scan and bag their own groceries at self-service checkouts, even though it saves them no money to do it themselves. Yet, consumer backlash against completely automated customer service is growing, especially in some industries such as banking. For example, TD Bank now promotes itself as a bank with “humanity,” using the catch phrase “bank human again.” It seems customers want choice: automation when it’s convenient and human interaction when it is needed.

    Does the Postal Service have the right balance of automated options and the human touch? Should it consider expanding the use of self-service kiosks to retail locations that will be operating at reduced hours (less than 8 hours per day)? What could the Postal Service do to increase public awareness and use of self-service kiosks units? Or do you think the public prefers working directly with a person at the window?

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