• on Jun 1st, 2009 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 17 comments
    While the Postal Service leads the world in processing letter mail, private sector competitors have a higher market share for parcels. And while letter volumes are decreasing, parcel volumes are projected to increase. Although parcels represent less than 2 percent of mail volumes, the Postal Service parcel business makes up 13 percent of the market share in the U.S. The chart on the left depicts the market share for parcels. Just how do parcel industry giants keep their costs down and productivity up, even in today’s economic environment? And, is there anything that the Postal Service can learn from them? After visiting operations of the two parcel industry giants, the OIG learned that although the Postal Service has many things in common with the industry giants, it could also learn a few things. The benchmarked entities and the Postal Service process parcels both manually and use automation. However, the following best practices came to light:
    • Employees are predominantly part-time, often working four-hour shifts with staggered start times to accommodate volume loads.
    • Employees are moved among tasks quickly to meet the needs of changing volumes, including crossing-crafts between unloading, scanning, processing, and even facility maintenance.
    • Parcels move quickly through the facilities, generally on conveyor belts, and are not staged in transport equipment in waiting areas or moved around between pieces of processing equipment manually.

    Which of the best practices listed above do you think would most positively impact the cost of handling parcels in our processing centers if the Postal Service implemented them? This blog is hosted by the OIG's Network Optimization directorate.

  • on May 22nd, 2009 in Pricing & Rates | 3 comments
    Sale is not a word usually associated with the Postal Service, but there is a first time for everything. Mail volume has dropped significantly this year, and the Postal Service is proposing a “Summer Sale” to encourage mailers to send more Standard Mail. The Postal Service believes it can use its excess capacity to deliver the additional mail volume at a relatively low cost.

    How will the proposed Summer Sale work? Qualifying mailers will receive a 30 percent rebate on any Standard Mail letters and flats sent from July 1 through September 30 this year above their individual threshold. Only mailers that sent at least 1 million Standard Mail letters and flats between October 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008 can participate, and mail service providers — companies that consolidate mail for others — are not eligible for the program. The threshold for each mailer will be based on the mailer’s previous summer volume and current volume trend. The Postal Service will also double check each participating mailer’s October 2009 volume against its trend. If it appears as though mailers shifted volume to the summer and mailed less in October, the Postal Service will reduce the rebates to account for the lost October volume.

    The Summer Sale is designed to increase mail volume and help the Postal Service gain some knowledge about how to improve its data systems and become more efficient at developing and implementing new offerings in the future. The Postal Service believes the program will provide an incentive for profitable new mail and boost a key customer segment, while enhancing its financial position.

    However, the Summer Sale is not without risks. If mailers simply shift volume to the summer months or switch advertising pieces they used to send as First-Class Mail to Standard Mail, the Postal Service will be giving discounts for mail volume that would have been sent anyway. Another potential risk is the administrative costs of the sale. The Postal Service expects these to be less than $1 million compared to potential revenue gains of $38 to $95 million; however, if its estimates prove inaccurate, it is possible the costs of the program could exceed the benefits.

    The Postal Service notified the Postal Regulatory Commission about the program on May 1, 2009, and the case (Docket No. R2009-3) is currently pending. What do you think about the proposed Summer Sale? Will it succeed? Do you foresee any difficulties in administering the program?

    This topic is hosted by the OIG's Cost, Revenue and Rates directorate.

  • on May 18th, 2009 in Products & Services | 29 comments
    Do you know why some magazines include postcards in the middle? Or have you mailed a letter back to a company in their envelope without having to put a stamp on it? Did you ever wonder how this service works?

    The Postal Service offers a service called Business Reply Mail (BRM). By opening an account with the local Post Office, a business may supply their customers with return envelopes or labels. This allows customers to send a reply via First-Class Mail or Priority Mail. The business pays the postage and a per piece fee only for the pieces returned. To ensure the postage is collected, clerks at the delivery Post Office calculate the amount due and withdraw the money from a customer account. In some cases, carriers collect the postage when they deliver the pieces to the business. Generally, BRM pieces are identified through automation process; however, the Postal Service relies on clerks and carriers to identify and hold out any BRM pieces that have not been isolated through automation.

    Recent changes in the public’s mailing habits alongside increased use of the internet to communicate with customers have led to reductions in BRM volume. This coupled with a smaller workforce with greater responsibilities may increase the risk to the Postal Service of not collecting all revenue from BRM.

    Do you think a change in the way the Postal Service charges for these pieces would increase the mailing volume while also helping the Postal Service reduce work hours? Is a flat rate based on quarterly volume estimates a more attractive option? Share your thoughts on BRM.

    This blog topic is hosted by the OIG's Field Financial East directorate.

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