• on Dec 23rd, 2013 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 1 comment

    Holiday mailings are as much a part of the American tradition as kids’ letters to Santa.

    We’ve talked a lot about the growth in packages, including those all-important holiday gifts. But the Postal Service is also doing its bit to make sure Big Red knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. As in years past, families with young “believers” have been taking advantage of the Postal Service offering that ensures letters from Santa have a North Pole postmark (so long as the request was made by December 10).

    Still others go to greater lengths to get in the spirit of the season. Each December holiday enthusiasts travel to the quiet town of Christmas, FL and visit its local post office, so their Christmas cards will be postmarked from Christmas itself. And for early planners, the Postal Service offers postmarks on letters and cards from other “Christmas-themed” towns, including Santa Claus, IN; Rudolph, OH; Antlers, ND; and any number of places called Bethlehem. Click here for the full list. 

    Whether you are mailing your holiday greetings and goodies from an exotic locale or putting them on the front stoop for your local carrier to pick up – Pushing the Envelope wishes you a wonderful holiday season and a very healthy and prosperous New Year.

    We also want to remind you to check back with us on Monday, January 6 when we will post our list of Top 10 Stories of the Year. As always, we welcome your feedback. 

  • on Dec 18th, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 2 comments

    Let’s talk intellectual property and the U.S. Postal Service for a moment. IP, as it’s commonly called, refers to intangible assets involving creativity and invention. Things like movies, books, computer software, engine design, and even the ZIP Code.

    The Postal Service introduced the ZIP Code in 1963, but never patented it. Too late now, but imagine if someone or a business other than the Postal Service had. Odds are you would be paying – directly or indirectly – a fee to the patent holder every time you put a ZIP Code onto a letter or package, in addition to the postage or shipping cost. Moreover, the Postal Service as well as private couriers and shippers would likely be paying, too, as would the many other businesses that use and benefit from ZIP Codes, such as real estate and insurance companies.

    In short, all stakeholders in the ZIP Code system, from everyday citizens to global logistics companies, would be at the mercy of a patent holder’s legal rights – and potential licensing fees.

    While the ZIP Code is safely in the public domain, the same can’t be said of other mailing-related IP. And as our recently released white paper shows, while the Postal Service has patented some technologies, the agency lacks a fully developed, organization-wide strategy for managing and protecting its substantial IP assets. Such a strategy would help secure Postal Service and postal stakeholder access to useful innovations.

    At the request of the OIG, experts at ipCapital evaluated the Postal Service’s current IP strategy. In addition to examining the Postal Service’s intellectual asset management processes, the experts performed a data-driven analysis of the agency’s patent portfolio and explored strategic models for IP development. The results led the OIG to outline the critical points and considerations of building a formal, scalable, and organization-wide IP strategy for the Postal Service.

    Towards A Postal Service Intellectual Property Strategy could not be more timely. Patent claimants have alleged infringement and for the past year been pursuing legal action against mailers and other businesses for using bar codes and QR codes. Bar codes are a central part of operations not just for the Postal Service but the industry at large. The outcome of the cases, which are still pending, could have profound impact. If claimants prevail, will bar code users have to pay fees? What about mailpieces enhanced with some type of augmented reality – would they be subject to fees, too?

    Tell us what you think: What is the right IP strategy for the Postal Service? Do you or does your business benefit from postal innovations? Would you be affected if access to them were blocked? 

  • on Dec 16th, 2013 in Products & Services | 2 comments

    Holiday greeting cards still outweigh e-cards in terms of sentiment and personal touch, recent surveys indicate. Even digital natives say a card in the mail evokes a stronger reaction than a text or email. Yet, each year, fewer and fewer people are sending holiday greeting cards through the mail.

    In 2011, American households on average sent about 16 holiday greeting cards, according to the Postal Service’s recently released 2012 Household Diary Study report. Twelve years earlier, 23 holiday cards were sent. Data from the Greeting Card Association also chart the downward trend: U.S. consumers bought 1.5 billion holiday cards in 2011, compared to 2.7 billion in 1995.

    Still, mailed holiday greeting cards remain an important component of the Postal Service’s revenues for the year, as single-piece First-Class letters are one of the Postal Service’s most profitable products. While mail is not as seasonal as it used to be, a strong holiday season still sets the tone for the entire fiscal year.

    It seems unlikely that this trend in holiday greeting cards can be easily reversed, given the overall decline in mail use and a growing comfort with digital communications. But, perhaps some small innovations might revive interest in sending holiday greeting cards. For example, Australia Post is pioneering the use of “video stamps” – a recorded 15-second video that the addressee can view using a smart phone app. While the post is allowing the stamps on parcels only at the moment, a similar type QR code might provide an interesting opportunity for greeting cards.

    What other innovations or digital enhancements might work well on hard-copy greeting cards? Do you plan on sending greeting cards this year? Do you expect to send more or fewer cards than last year? 

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