This is the time of year when retailers, nonprofit organizations, and other mailers step up their holiday advertising mailing campaigns. Volume spikes in this period, known as the fall mailing season, which then gives way to the even-busier holiday mailing season, when personal correspondence and packages spike. The U.S. Postal Service makes most of its money for the year in the period between Labor Day and Christmas.

Commercial mailers work closely with the Postal Service to help it prepare, but the fall mailing season has always presented operational challenges. In some ways, it is highly efficient because facilities are staffed for busy times. But postal equipment, including mail tubs, trays, mail transporting equipment, and pallets, have to be in the right places at the right times. In past years, commercial mailers have complained about shortages of mail equipment. Ideally, mail sorting equipment should run at optimal throughputs for maximum efficiency, and the online system mailers use to set up mail entry appointments should work seamlessly. Still, mail delays can occur for a variety of reasons, including mail processing errors, inefficient use of automation equipment, congestion on the facility floor, and working from incomplete operating plans.

The Postal Service’s fall mailing season plan attempts to eliminate roadblocks to swift processing and delivery. This year, it has ordered extra mail transport equipment and looked at ways to shift volume from heavily used equipment to under-used processing equipment. The Postal Service is also relying on the increased visibility from the Intelligent Mail barcode as a diagnostic tool to uncover bottlenecks. These tools helped it reduce mail delays in fall 2012 by showing “pinch points” and helping managers act on that information to reduce mail cycle times.

This year, however, could prove especially challenging as the Postal Service continues with its network consolidation implementation. It has completed more than 150 facility consolidations and has moved more than 700 pieces of equipment in support of the consolidations. With the late date of Thanksgiving this year, the end of fall mailing season pushes right into the peak mailing season for the holidays.

Mailers, what have your experiences been like so far this fall mailing season? Are there noticeable improvements in mail equipment availability, mail delivery times, and appointment opportunities? Has network consolidation posed any unexpected challenges?

Comments (7)

  • anon

    The package I sent to London, England, from my local post office on December 16, 2016, seemed stuck in Chicago for 10 days from December 18-28. I understand that time span includes the Christmas holiday, but USPS reps on their 800 number could not tell me why it took so long or where the package was headed after it finally left Chicago or when it might be delivered. Is the Chicago ISC understaffed or under-equipped, or is the problem a lack of skilled workers or, sorry to suggest it, incompetence of management and staff? I will be looking for non-USPS carriers when I send my next package to England.

    Jan 03, 2017
  • anon

    I recently received a USPS mailer advertising holiday mail options. Under the "Don't forget your holiday stamps!" there was a picture of a Hanukah, a generic, and a kuanza stamp. There was no Christian stamp. Since the vast majority of our country is Christian, I find this offensive and prejudiced. In this increasing secular world we deserve more signs of Christianity. Please correct your advertising to display Christian stamps.

    Nov 24, 2013
  • anon

    This particular comment is in reference to the forever flag stamps that were created. I don't understand the "strike through" on the word "forever" it appears (to me) that it looks like you are saying it isn't forever. I am truly offended by the line thru the word "forever" and maybe you should rethink the design, by removing the strike through.

    Nov 22, 2013
  • anon

    It doesn't sound like you've actually used any of these stamps yet. That black line through "forever" is only on pictures of the stamp. You can also see this same element on many thousands of pictures of denominated stamps. It's there primarily as an anti-counterfeiting device to thwart people from printing out a picture of the stamp and using it instead of a real one. If you're ever able to purchase any of the actual stamps, you'll notice that line is not present.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    Absolutely no improvement. I've mailed 5 packages to Europe this month. I've paid over $10 a lb. for 6-10 day delivery. None of the packages arrived in 10 days or less and no refunds are available. The packages spend 3 days in Capital Heights, and then lingered in Chicago, IL a while before being forwarded to France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Norway or wherever to their customs facility. USPS needs to UPDATE their time expectations or LOWER their prices as I'm not getting what I'm paying for. Pathetic service=lost confidence=finding alternatives.

    Oct 29, 2013
  • anon

    I ordered eye glasses from I ordered and paid for them September 29th. I was told they should arrive by October 15th. It is now October 23rd and it seems like they don't know where my glasses are. It was sent to Des Plaines, IL October 11th. It was then processed at USPS sort facility October 12th in Forest Park, IL. It then departed on October 12th to USPS sort facility in Forest Park, IL, then on October 16th it was processed through USPS sort facility in Forest Park, IL, then on October 19th, it was processed through USPS sort facility in Des Moines, IA, then on October 20th it departed USPS sort facility in Des Moines, IA, THEN of all places on October 22nd it is processed through USPS sort facility in Forest Park, IL again. What in the world is USPS thinking of???? Is this why they keep raising their prices? Why should we pay for such terrible, terrible service. I need my glasses and it seems like they don't know how to send them to the right address.

    Oct 23, 2013
  • anon

    my package is lost!! Some service! Service sucks! Cannot talk to an actual person who does not give "lip service" & no one seems to be able to tell me where it is! I sent it last week & it has not even been taken to the sorting faccilities! Or at least the Tracking does not show where it is, so where is it people!! They did this to me last year as well. Only that package had been opened, stuff taken out & then re taped & sent on. Minus the contents!!! I filed claims on it & still no answer or anything! Where is that one??? If this package is not delivered, I will have 2 broken hearted grandsons (AGAIN) as this is their costumes, same as last year. From now on I will use alternative shipping. USPS SUCKS!!!

    Oct 21, 2013