• 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?

     

  • on Feb 2nd, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 11 comments

    You can’t cut your way to prosperity. It’s a common saying in business circles, particularly in the mailing industry. The U.S. Postal Service has done a good job cutting costs, yet still needs to grow revenue with new products and services.

    Indeed, recent reports suggest a sure way for a post to boost revenue is by offering customers a range of innovative products, such as parcels, logistics, banking, insurance, and digital services. Many of our papers have encouraged the Postal Service to explore these kinds of revenue-generating products and services.

    Yet diversification doesn’t necessarily mean wandering too far from the mission, or reinventing the wheel. Good ideas can be found close to home, using existing assets. Our most recent paper, Revenue Opportunities for Innovative Mail Services, presented some ideas that could take advantage of the Postal Service’s existing network, brand, excess facilities, equipment, or other assets.

    For example, we looked at International Mail Forwarding (IMF), a service that provides recipients a U.S. address from which packages and mail can be collected, held, digitally scanned, or shipped anywhere in the world. This booming business – a current U.S. market of over $1 billion from service and shipping revenue – is expected to grow even more because foreigners need a U.S.-based address to buy online from U.S. companies. Given the Postal Service’s reputation for being secure and trustworthy, and its experience in international delivery, it could grow quickly in the IMF market, our research indicated.

    We saw another opportunity in continuity shipping, a service where a consumer agrees to receive merchandise automatically at regular intervals until canceling the shipments. This established and growing segment of the retail industry is an integral part of eCommerce fulfillment because it helps automate merchandise shipment and return. Given the Postal Service’s expansive facility and transportation networks, and experience with parcels, it is in a strategic position to offer continuity shipping services.

    These types of products would take advantage of the Postal Service’s existing assets and experience. In addition, they open the door to further innovation and value-added services. Are there other innovative ideas that are similarly “close to home” and worth exploring? Do you think these types of ideas have merit? Is there value in smaller revenue products or should the Postal Service not waste time on smaller projects? 

  • on Dec 29th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 9 comments

    With 1 billion smartphones shipped in 2013, it’s safe to say mobile devices are the future of shopping, banking, and transactions – if not everything. Retailers and technology companies certainly agree, as they race to provide consumers with the ideal mobile payment system.

    Before the holidays, Apple unveiled Apple Pay, a wireless payment system. Thanks to near-field communication technology, Apple Pay lets owners of the newest Apple phones and products pay for goods by scanning their phones on a payment terminal. The Apple Pay account links to a customer’s credit or debit card.

    The company has teamed up with a number of major credit card companies and banks, and therein lies the first potential limitation to the system’s success. Users must have a debit or credit card with one of the approved partners. And they must own a newer Apple device.

    Moreover, some retailers aren’t accepting Apple Pay, including CVS and Rite Aid. Why? Possibly because they – along with Target, Walmart, and others – are developing their own mobile wallet and payment system that would avoid swipe fees and other transaction fees retailers pay to credit card companies. Google Wallet is another option in the mobile payment market, but it, too, only works on newer devices and users still need to link the app to a credit card. This might just be the biggest obstacle of all – developing a mobile wallet that offers consumers more value and ease than just pulling out a credit card.

    Finally, security of data and access to consumer data remain key elements. Do mobile payment solutions protect a consumer’s bank account and credit data? And who has access to the valuable consumer data?

    Still, experts expect mobile payment systems to eventually flourish. Indeed, The Guardian recently suggested the Postal Service “could serve as the backbone” for a new payment system by incorporating a mobile payment app into a basic financial services offering.

    What do you think? Is there a role for the Postal Service in mobile payment apps? Or is this an area best served by the private sector? 

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