• on Jun 1st, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 1 comment

    Here’s a question: What percentage of America’s 30 million companies export?

    • 25 percent
    • 10 percent
    • 1 percent

    With global ecommerce topping $1.3 trillion last year, we would understand if you picked the top choice. The answer, however, is 1 percent – considerably lower than all other developed countries – according to the Department of Commerce. And of U.S. companies that do export, 58 percent export to only one country, usually Canada or Mexico.

    Global ecommerce has exploded recently, jumping 24 percent last year and expected to leap another 20 percent this year. So why do so few U.S. companies take the plunge?

    Experts say many companies have tended to think the U.S. domestic market is both large and diverse enough to accommodate steady growth. But with 70 percent of world’s buying power located outside the United States and with emerging middle classes in highly populated countries like China and Brazil, such a parochial view leads to a flawed strategy.

    Of course, challenges abound for companies attempting to expand globally. This is especially true for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), which often don’t have the time or money to figure out how to export. Among the pain points for SMEs:

    • customs forms and procedures are confusing, as is knowing import/export restrictions and the harmonized tariff code;
    • payment and currency in other countries;
    • lack of technological capabilities;
    • logistics challenges; and
    • how to best market in other countries.

    The market is responding with solutions, including marketplace platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba, as well as providers, such as Borderfree, which takes an online retailer’s website and makes it international by localizing content and accepting international payments while displaying total costs and shipping information. Still, more options would be helpful, especially for SMEs that need simple, one-stop solutions.

    Enter the U.S. Postal Service. Some observers see a big opportunity for the Postal Service, especially if it could offer services – either on its own or with a partner – that remove major hurdles like customs clearance, fully landed costs and address verification.

    What services would you like to see the Postal Service offer in global ecommerce? How best might the Postal Service partner with existing providers to give SMEs a complete service offering?

  • on May 25th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 34 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service is best known for delivering the mail. But did you know it’s also the number one seller of the most widely used type of alternative financial service in the United States? We’re talking about money orders, which function like prepaid checks. The Postal Service sold a whopping 97 million of them with a face value of $21 billion in fiscal year 2014.

    The Postal Service also offers international money transfers, prepaid gift cards, and limited check cashing. From 1911 to 1967, it even offered savings accounts through the Postal Savings System, which prompted millions of Americans to move a portion of their nest eggs from under the mattress into savings accounts.  

    In our recent white paper, The Road Ahead for Postal Financial Services, we explore how the Postal Service could expand its financial offerings to benefit Americans and generate much needed new revenue. (This is a follow-up to our January 2014 paper, Providing Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved.) We hired financial consultancy Mercator Advisory Group to help us look at the pros and cons of several different approaches the Postal Service could take. But we dove deepest into what it probably is allowed to do under current law; namely, beef up and improve existing products and expand into adjacent, related services like payroll check cashing, domestic electronic money transfers between post offices, and walk-up bill paying. Our analysis shows that – assuming Postal Regulatory Commission approval – a suite of these potentially allowable products could, after a 5-year ramp-up, bring in $1.1 billion in annual revenue while covering costs and contributing profits.

    We welcome your input. 

    • Should the Postal Service look at new business lines that are not directly related to mail and delivery?
    •  Which financial products do you think the Postal Service should provide? 
    • What do you think are the biggest barriers to success in postal financial services?  
  • on May 11th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 3 comments

    The story goes that Alibaba founder Jack Ma chose his company’s name for two reasons: He wanted to be ahead of Amazon alphabetically and he wanted a global-sounding name. It didn’t hurt that some people also associated the word Alibaba with “hidden treasure” – recalling the most famous story from The Arabian Nights.

    Alibaba is China’s giant ecommerce platform that is now taking on the globe. Its September 2014 initial public offering in the United States was the largest ever, and Ma has signaled his interest in expanding here.

    Unlike Amazon, Alibaba doesn’t actually sell any goods; rather, it connects buyers and sellers. Its three main websites are Alibaba.com, which links Chinese exporters with companies around the world; Taobao.com, China’s biggest shopping site; and Tmall.com, a website of select branded goods targeted primarily to China’s middle class. Alibaba also offers a Paypal-like service called alipay.com.

    Some experts predict Alibaba could soon be the largest retail platform in the world. With 330 million active buyers, it is the fastest-growing ecommerce company in the fastest growing market in the world.

    So, what does all of this mean for the logistics and delivery markets? Well, a lot. Postal operators and private carriers are all trying to get in on Alibaba’s action. Last year, Alibaba bought a minority interest in Singapore Post and it signed an agreement with China Post to share facilities and resources to beef up delivery in China, especially in remote areas. Royal Mail recently announced it was joining Tmall.com to boost trade for its overseas parcels business.

    And Amazon, not one to reject any opportunity to expand its reach, is also joining the party. It just opened a store on Tmall.com.

    So, where might the U.S Postal Service fit in here? Do you see an opportunity for the Postal Service to partner with Alibaba? And what if Alibaba expands aggressively in the United States? How could the Postal Service position itself to be a player in that expansion?

     

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