Could post offices be redesigned to improve their appearance and ease of use, perhaps modeled after the pleasant, comfortable designs of other retail outlets? The business world has seen a recent explosion of interest in design. Apple is a great example of a company that has reached an astounding market capitalization based largely on its focus and skill in design, both of its products and retail spaces. Starbucks has successfully positioned its retail locations as a “third place”— neither home nor work — where customers can savor a cup of coffee and enjoy a comfortable atmosphere for work or leisure. Retail bank lobbies use smart, neat designs that facilitate efficient customer transactions. Post offices, for the most part, do not seem to inspire the same feelings. Although some retail outlets are more attractive and functional, many post offices are nondescript and lack visible customer tools, such as a list of services and prices. Their absence can cause unnecessary delays and frustration. Post Office counters sometimes appear cluttered and disorganized, and generally unappealing. Post offices in classical older buildings are an exception, and they often serve as an attractive part of a town’s landscape. However, the interior design doesn’t always match the elegant external architecture. As Apple and Starbucks have demonstrated, design is not merely an aesthetic issue; it has consequences for the financial performance of a consumer-facing business. Should the U.S. Postal Service redesign post offices as part of its retail optimization plan and make them more appealing and user-friendly? Could such design improvements yield appreciable commercial or financial benefits? Or would design improvements be too cost prohibitive in the Postal Service’s current financial condition? Tell us — and show us — what you think. If you love the design of a particular Post Office, let us know where it is and post a picture if you can.
on Jul 2nd, 2012
in Post Offices & Retail Network
| 11 comments
on Jun 18th, 2012
in Post Offices & Retail Network
| 10 comments
Americans are passionate about their post offices as they made clear when the Postal Service unveiled its original plan to close 3,700 post offices, most of them in rural areas. Last month, the Postal Service announced a new plan to keep post offices opened but reduce the operating hours at 13,000 locations. These low-activity post offices would be open only 2 to 6 hours a day, which the Postal Service says would save it $500 million a year. The Postal Service also plans to upgrade about 4,500 current part-time Post Offices to 8 hours of daily window service. Post offices are viewed by many as a gathering place for citizens and central to a community’s social and cultural identity. Some argue the Post Office is not just a profit-based retail establishment; it is part of the Postal Service’s larger public service mission. Perhaps the Postal Service should consider expanding the services it offers at post offices before it closes them. But others say the Postal Service needs to reduce its operating costs by right-sizing its retail network to match the new reality of a changing communications market. Nearly 80 percent of the 32,000 Post Offices operate at a loss. About 12,000 post offices average daily revenues of less than $68 per day, and one third of those Post Offices have average daily revenues of less than $25 per day. Closing low-activity post offices would help the cash-strapped Postal Service save money. What do you think about the Postal Service’s Post Office Structure Plan, or POStPlan? Does it make sense to reduce the hours at low-activity post offices or should the Postal Service close them altogether? Or is there a better retail plan that considers a more targeted approach, such as offering new services in Post Offices and/or extending the hours at some post offices while closing others?
on Jun 11th, 2012
in Products & Services
| 14 comments
A 100-year old temperance-era law prohibits the Postal Service from shipping alcohol and benefiting from the growth in online purchases of wine, beer, and other spirits. As states have loosened their restrictions on inter-state alcohol shipments, FedEx and UPS have seized this burgeoning opportunity. The Postal Service needs to secure new sources of revenue in an era of declining mail volume. Shipping of alcohol could create an additional revenue stream, while capitalizing on the Postal Service’s strength in last-mile delivery. Shipping of alcohol would require the Postal Service to establish a strict set of rules. First, it would have to be sure no one under age 21 receives alcoholic shipments. Second, it would have to comply with varying state laws, some of which prohibit the shipment of out-of-state alcohol directly to consumers. Other states allow direct shipments to consumers but restrict those shipments to producers, such as wineries. The Postal Service has indicated it would put proper restrictions in place, such as requiring an adult signature for shipments of alcohol. It even appears to have ideas around flat rate boxes that could hold two, four, or six bottles of wine. With the right restrictions in place, should the Postal Service be allowed to ship alcohol and tap into this growing market? Or should an organization that is part of the federal government stay out of the business of shipping alcohol given the negative images sometimes associated with alcohol consumption? What do you think? Share your comments below. This blog is hosted by the OIG's Office of Audit.