• on May 14th, 2013 | 1 comment

    For more than 20 years, the National Association of Letter Carriers has led its annual national food drive, Stamp Out Hunger, to collect non-perishable food to alleviate hunger for the 50 million Americans affected. This Saturday, May 11, letter carriers will pick up canned goods and other non-perishable food left by customers in marked bags.

    This enormously successful food drive is a joint effort of letter carriers, their co-workers, friends, family, and community partners. This year’s partners include, the U.S. Postal Service, AARP, and two well-known names in the mailing community, Valpak and Valassis/Red Plum. The food drive always takes place on the second Saturday of May and regularly draws a strong response from customers. Last year, letter carriers collected more than 70 million pounds of non-perishable food donations, the country’s largest one-day food drive event.

    With its local presence and national reach, the Postal Service touches every American nearly every day. Americans often view their letter carriers as their direct contact with and connection to the Postal Service. This national food drive event is one of the efforts that ties the Postal Service more closely to the communities it serves. A strong community presence is one intangible of the Postal Service and one of the often-overlooked benefits it provides to society.

    A few years ago, the Postal Regulatory Commission considered the social benefit of the Postal Service and issued reports that attempted to highlight or quantify how the Postal Service and its vast infrastructure benefited the American population. The Urban Institute, which conducted a few of the studies, noted: “As an independent agency of the executive branch, the Postal Service opens access to information for preserving democracy, fostering commerce, and promoting the general welfare. It’s a public good and a great equalizer insofar as it serves rich and poor, urban and rural, young and old, unhealthy and hale.”

    The annual letter carrier food drive seems a shining example of the broader benefits the postal infrastructure brings to society. Do you agree or disagree? Do you think these larger societal benefits would suffer with a significantly smaller postal system? Or should we no longer expect the Postal Service – under pressure to operate like a business – to provide such services? Do you have any other ideas that could benefit the nation through the use of the Postal Service’s delivery network? Share your thoughts below.

  • on May 14th, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 5 comments

    In the late 1950s, McDonald’s executives discovered that being in the real estate business was more profitable than focusing solely on the food business. McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc had a business partner, Harry J. Sonneborn, who devised a plan to purchase or lease the land on which nearly all McDonald’s restaurants would be located. He then charged franchisees a monthly rental fee for the land, or a percentage of their sales, whichever was greater. The rest, as they say, is entrepreneurial history.

    With 33,000 facilities on more than 300 million square feet of land, the U.S Postal Service operates more retail outlets than McDonald’s. The Postal Service owns and leases properties in high-traffic areas, often in a city’s most desirable location. Is there an opportunity for the Postal Service to lease or sublease its vast real estate holdings to other businesses to generate revenue and improve cash flow? Could the Postal Service sell its facilities in desirable locations and lease back a portion of the facility as needed?

    For example, the Postal Service partnered in 2007 with a development company to renovate and lease out part of the main Post Office in New York City (James A. Farley building) for retail and other purposes, including a new Amtrak train station and hotel space. While the redevelopment has hit construction delays, it remains a promising model for future plans.

    These kinds of opportunities are not necessarily restricted to post offices in large cities. Smaller facilities are likely to be attractive to third parties as well. One example is the Redondo Beach Galleria Station in Redondo CA, a very small retail unit in a shopping mall, currently on the market to be subleased.

    Do you think the Postal Service should sell or lease its facilities in prime real-estate locations? Should it have any restrictions on which facilities it can sell or lease or what types of operations can lease a postal facility? Should there be restrictions on how the Postal Service uses the revenues raised from such a sale or lease? Share your thoughts.

  • on Apr 23rd, 2013 | 32 comments

    In today’s mobile society, people socialize, shop, work, and play anywhere and everywhere. Yet even as many aspects of communications and commerce have gone mobile, the physical address has remained static. Wouldn’t it be convenient if you could direct your mail to meet you wherever you go? So, instead of going to your mailbox, your mailbox came to you.

    In our recently released white paper “Virtual Post Office Boxes”, we consider a concept that would offer portability to your address, just like email and phone numbers. The Virtual Post Office (PO) Box gives customers control over where, when, and how they receive their mail and packages. Much like the venerable PO Box service, the Virtual PO Box would provide users with an alternate address instead of their residential address. Virtual PO Box customers could log into their www.usps.com accounts to link this address with any physical address, including a home or business address, a nearby Post Office, a physical PO Box locker, or even a gopost® parcel locker.

    The paper suggests users could accept or redirect letters, flats, and parcels online or from their smart devices to an alternate address, a temporary address, or even a parcel locker in their desired location. Customers could receive immediate notification via email or text message when new mailpieces have arrived. They then could determine where they wanted them delivered. For example, a person on vacation may request that his or her packages be delivered to a nearby gopost parcel locker. In today’s increasingly digital and mobile world, the service would provide a “just in time” element to the flow of mail and give customers numerous options. They could choose from many delivery options, however, destruction of the mail would not be an option.

    The capabilities and features of a Virtual PO Box could:

    • Give a physical dimension to email and smart devices by linking a customer’s email addresses to his or hers Virtual PO Box address and residential address for parcel fulfillment and other activities.
    • Validate the identity of users for merchants and in peer-to-peer sales, while concealing home addresses and personal information.
    • Allow foreign customers to shop online and provide merchants with a U.S. address for parcel delivery and returns.
    • Provide small businesses the ability to possess a vanity address and use the Virtual PO Box as a micro-warehouse.

    Some challenges of a Virtual PO Box, range from operations and technical issues to preventing fraud in international shipments. The paper also contemplates some possible future enhancements and best ways to pursue the concept, such as partnering with companies that now provide similar services.

     

    If offered, which services would you use? Would you be willing to pay more for premium services, such as international shipments and returns? Do you see any problems with offering or implementing such a service? Share your thoughts below.

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