• on Sep 1st, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 6 comments

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) is going back to the mail, bucking the digital trend it embraced just 3 years ago. This month, SSA will again start mailing paper benefit statements to people at 5-year intervals.

    In 2011, under budget pressure, SSA stopped mailing paper statements that provide an estimate of future Social Security earnings. The effort certainly saved money, about $70 million a year. But only about 11 million people – or just 6 percent of all workers – registered online to view their statements. This low participation heightened criticism that people weren’t getting valuable reminders of what they can expect to get back in the future from payroll taxes.

    Advocacy groups for older Americans and the paper industry pressured the agency to resume mailing paper statements. They noted that millions of Americans don’t have Internet access and thus have no way to verify the accuracy of their Social Security benefits or to plan for retirement.

    If you are one of the 11 million who registered to view your statement online, you won’t get a paper statement mailed to you. But everyone else will get a mailed statement when they are ages 25, 30, 35, 40 and so on.

    SSA’s return to hard-copy statements suggests that some types of communication still need to be mailed. Do you agree? Or, as broadband expands, can most communications eventually move online for convenience and cost savings? What types of statements do you prefer to receive by mail? Are there statements you prefer to get online? 

  • on Aug 4th, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 34 comments

    Delivery is its bread-and-butter. And service is in its name. So, the U.S. Postal Service takes pride in delivering mail to every address in America.

    But declining mail volume, changes in the network, a downsizing of its workforce, and evolving customer needs have led to changes in delivery. Further, a wide range of variables, such as weather, employee absences, or new carriers to a route, can affect delivery every day. These changes and variables pose challenges to the Postal Service in meeting its targeted “24-hour clock initiative,” which is to collect, distribute, and deliver mail on time and to have 95 percent of letter carriers off the street by 5 p.m.

    In recent years, more carriers have been returning after 5 p.m. That percentage increased nationally from 25 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2011 to 38 percent in FY 2013. Mail delivery after dark raises carrier safety concerns while late mail makes consumers unhappy.

    Our recent audit report looked specifically at the Capital District, which experienced a 14 percentage point increase in city carriers returning after 5 p.m. We found the increase was due to (1) delayed delivery of mail from the processing facilities to the delivery units, and (2) supervisors failing to properly supervise city delivery operations. Our recommendations centered on modifying operating plans to get mail to the delivery unit earlier in the day and on adhering to policies and procedures for supervising city delivery operations.

    Also, we encouraged management and union officials to work together to address carrier safety. External stakeholders have already offered some ideas worth considering, such as brightly colored, reflective clothing to make carriers more visible, and realigning delivery routes so carriers can start earlier in dangerous areas.

    We welcome your suggestions as well. What more could be done to get carriers off the streets by the targeted 5 p.m. return time? Given all the variables that can affect the ability to complete deliveries by 5 p.m., what additional precautions could be taken to enhance carrier safety? 

  • on Jul 21st, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 11 comments

    The Internet may have eaten into the U.S. Postal Service’s First-Class Mail volume and revenue, but digital devotion does bring good news, too. Package shipping is on the rise, due in large part to the ever-increasing popularity of online shopping. The Postal Service’s future could brighten considerably because of this expanding market, but is the Postal Service prepared to compete effectively in it?

    Our new white paper, Package Services: Get Ready, Set, Grow!, essentially probes that question and comes up with several intriguing findings. As our auditors have noted, the Postal Service has done a good job of managing package growth in terms of mail volume and workhours. But it could do more. And it will have to, not only because UPS and FedEx are offering modernized, end-to-end products and services in response to customer demand, but also because some e-tailers, like Amazon, are expanding to offer their own shipping and delivery options.

    Last year American businesses and consumers spent more than $68 billion to ship packages domestically; the Postal Service accounted for almost two-fifths of the total volume but less than one-fifth of the total revenue. That worked out to an average $3.37 of revenue per package for the Postal Service. UPS’s and FedEx’s average revenue per piece for their domestic packages were $9.39 and $9.70, respectively. The main reasons for the disparity? The Postal Service excels in lightweight and last-mile package delivery, which generate comparatively lower revenues.

    The white paper says the Postal Service could increase its revenue-per-package average by adding new services that customers want. For example:

    • Improving tracking service and package-return service
    • Offering email and text alerts to parcel senders and recipients
    • Specifying time-windows for delivery

    What do you think? How could the Postal Service expand its dominance in lightweight packages to higher-revenue packages? What package services would make you use the Postal Service more than you do now? How much online shopping do you do compared to in-store shopping?

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