The Midwest is the nation’s “breadbasket.” New England has its Patriots. Appalachia loves its bluegrass music. And it never rains in Southern California. We all associate certain things with different regions of the country. Now, it seems, one of those things is mail volume. 

The decline in mail volume may be more nuanced than some realized, data in our new white paper suggests. Take the drop in First-Class Mail (FCM), for instance. The math clearly shows that from fiscal years 1995 to 2013, FCM single-piece volume fell by a total 61 percent nationally. But a close look into the geographic details reveals the rate of FCM decline varies widely by location. So widely, in fact, that the U.S. Postal Service should keep it in mind as it right-sizes its network and considers new products and services. 

Everything’s bigger in Texas, right? In Dallas, the percent of FCM volume lost was far greater than 61 percent, while in other areas – like Charleston, WV – it was close to zero. Moreover, the rate of decline is slowing or has even stopped in many of the areas that have lost the most mail volume. The details are all in Declines in U.S. Postal Service Mail Volume Vary Widely Across the United States.

We know from the most recent Postal Service Household Diary Study that college graduates consistently send about twice as much mail as people without high school diplomas, and mail use in general increases substantially with income and age. However, the rates of mail decline are very similar across these demographic groups. We’ll need to look elsewhere for a good explanation of why mail use varies so much by region.

As the Postal Service continues to adjust its network and its strategy for the future, it must be mindful that the needs of its customers vary at least as widely as these differences in mail volumes. Simply put, there is no average or typical postal customer. Strategic planning designed around average mail volume data will inevitably result in inefficient solutions. The Postal Service would therefore do well to try gaining a better understanding of why these varying rates of FCM decline are occurring.

Tell us your thoughts: Why do you think mail volume declines vary by region? Do you see an opportunity to launch “regional” strategies of any kind?  

Comments (12)

  • anon

    I believe this statement from the article is not factual: "Postal Service Household Diary Study that college graduates consistently send about twice as much mail as people without high school diplomas,". Put the study online so the Voting public can come about there on conclusions. When I was in College one of the courses I took was psychology. In that course I learned that more studies are flawed by many different factors. The main factor was who was paying for the study influenced the out come. The article basically is saying if your not smart ie dumb you don't use the USPS mail system. My first impression if reading a study such as this would also involve critical thinking which would cause me to ask this question: Are College student so inapt at using computers and email they have to sent the communications by letters written in crayon stuffed into an envelope and mailed by the fraternity / dorm secretary?

    May 13, 2015
  • anon

    One reason the mail volume falls is because Postal employees refuse to deliver packages and just return them as undeliverable. That way he/she shortens their route and goes home after only working 1/2 to 3/4 of a day and gets paid for the whole day.

    May 13, 2015
  • anon

    In my opinion you can't see the forrest for the trees. Sooner or later you are going to have to admit "boots on the ground" delivering mail to the wrong address are on the increase. This seems particularily true for your substitute carriers that replaces the regualars on their day off. What's the point of someone shipping something via USPS, have it make it to the local post office and then disappear somewhere in the neighborhood. My zip code is 84094. I am serviced by the post office 84070. I have complained to the postmaster so much he gave me his phone number to call him. But nothing seems to change. The past year I have had to collect two of my packages a block east of me and give packages back to the mailman and postmaster that were not mine. Today a person (not the mailman) dropped off my package of mail order medications that was delivered to his house two blocks north of me. I'm thinking about passing out flyers inviting neighbors to call me when they receive mail not addressed to them so I can pass the information on to the postmaster.

    May 09, 2015
  • anon

    An interesting follow up report would be how much the baseline demand changes with the decline in service standards. The 2015 change in service standards and the inability of the USPS to meet the new lower standards with its "right sized" network is motivating some of this "base" of demand for FCM to disappear.

    May 05, 2015
  • anon

    Yes - changes in service standards are yet another factor impacting mail use over time, and it is likely those impacts vary by geographic area. Other potential “service-related” factors are closing of post offices, changes to window service hours, and online access to postage. These are all examples where this kind of research could lead to segmented strategies focused on retaining customers and improving postal services. Thank you for your comment and suggestion.

    May 06, 2015
  • anon

    Why do you think mail volume declines vary by region? you have the answers already, broken down demographically. Do you see an opportunity to launch “regional” strategies of any kind? A HUGE YES. In fact, the chosen word "regional" sounds to be to broad. Just in a 60 mile radius of my office. We have a Naval Base, University and colleges, a retirement (snowbird) community, several tourist communities, industrial, farm land, shipping/docks with all supporting businesses and a wide range of household income and ages. Each Post Office handles a different type of customer. No two are alike. And no office handles the entire list of examples. In just 12 miles the difference in median age and income drops dramatically from one post office to another. One office is higher income and older, another is much lower income and much lower median age by 20 years. The data is already available, it just needs to be drilled down. It would be a dream come true in my job to see the USPS actually look at things from the bottom up when making decisions.

    May 02, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you for your post and support for “regional” strategies that improve postal services. This initial research looked at “geographic areas,” which were based on 3-digit ZIP Codes, and used data by Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas. Unfortunately, that level of analysis could not fully take into account the diverse nature of communities, as in the 60-mile radius of your office, and perfectly isolate demand for mail by block or street or address. As analysts, we agree with your insight that the geographic areas are a broad grouping and drilling down deeper would unearth other important insights and be potentially groundbreaking. We plan to explore this in future work.

    May 04, 2015
  • anon

    Why is there a decline in FCM utilization across demographic groups? I think it is simply a more global access to telecommunications technology. The telephone could never supplant mail for important communications but email with attachments certainly seem to be cutting tremendous inroads into FCM. The early PCs were very expensive and without the user friendly interface. Now they are relatively inexpensive and the software can prompt you for appointments, responses and much more than you even care about. Now, indeed, many things can be done on cell phones or mini-pad, obviating the need for paper communication. It seems like owning one is de rigor for all demographics, the unemployed, the 4th Grader, the affluent, the elderly (albeit at a slower clip) independent of education, income and most likely regionally. Perhaps the absence of cell phone towers and high speed internet connectivity in West Virgina or regions that are rural, remote and economically depressed explains the relatively slower rate of decline of FCM utilization.

    May 01, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you for your comment and observation on how technology impacts use of the mail and is increasingly a substitute for traditional hard copy correspondence and transactions. Widespread adoption of that technology is likely one major cause for the surprisingly consistent declines in mail use across demographic groups that we observed in this initial research. As you note, there is likely a geographic relationship as well. We plan to more fully explore the impacts of additional significant factors including cell phone coverage and high speed internet connectivity in follow-up work.

    May 04, 2015
  • anon

    How many of the Plants in the low decline group absorbed processing done previously by another Plant? How many of the Plants in the high decline groups lost processing to another Plant? For instance, Muncie and Lafayette Indiana lost their outgoing distribution to Kokomo Indiana prior to 2013. Because Kokomo's processing volumes were relatively small, the gain when expressed as a number would look small, but when expressed as a percentage would look large. Bloomington and Terre Haute also lost processing to Indianapolis. But because the volumes handled in Indy were large, the change in the percentage would be lesser than the change in a small Plant like Kokomo.

    Apr 27, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you for your interest in the report and for your feedback. We agree that plant consolidations and closings contribute to regional variations in mail volume, particularly in certain areas. We acknowledge this explicitly in the report, but do not think this alters the initial conclusion that mail use varies greatly by region. For example, plant consolidations and closings will not have as severe an impact on mail use trends for a state as it does for any given area, and our research shows that mail use varies greatly by state (see Appendix C of the report). Raising the issue that mail use is not uniform across geographic areas is a necessary first step in the discussion of this important topic. We hope that discussion will not only advance and refine this research, but more importantly lead to improvements in postal services. To your point, we plan to examine the effects of the closure and consolidation of processing facilities on mail volumes, as well as research the effects of the many other contributing factors, in follow-up work. We welcome your additional thoughts.

    May 01, 2015
  • anon

    less people use fcm more are useing emial and tweeder

    Apr 27, 2015

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