• on Sep 19th, 2014 in Products & Services | 3 comments

    Mere ink-on-paper advertisements are so last week. Cutting-edge ads, including direct mail, involve interactive features that were once limited to slick websites. How about something the size of a postcard that uses radio waves to send detailed product information to your smartphone and lets you to buy the minute you want to? Or a piece of mail that has an embedded, paper-thin video screen that you can control?

    The first example is called near field communications, the second a type of electronic mail (which is not at all the same as email). They’re just two of 10 technological innovations for enhancing advertising mail that we examine in our recently released white paper, Mail Innovations. One way or another, they each leverage technology to provide far more information about a product – and are far more engaging – than advertising mail of yore.

    Some are already in use. For example, home-furnishing giant Ikea’s catalog contains pages with codes you can scan with a smartphone so you can get a better look at something. Let’s say you’re interested in a particular chest of drawers; scanning the page code puts the dresser image on your screen and lets you “open” the drawers to see inside. This innovation is known as augmented reality.

    New mail enhancements can also transmit relevant data back to the sender – data such as which items you looked at most. This helps the sender tailor future advertising mail to your particular interests. And the U.S. Postal Service is trying to encourage mail advertisers to use these innovative features by offering promotional discounts on postage when they do.

    Let us know what you think. Are you more inclined to open and scan something with an interactive feature? What type of included or embedded innovative technology would hold your attention? 

  • on Sep 15th, 2014 in Products & Services | 10 comments

    The aptly named Business Service Network (BSN) is charged with servicing the U.S. Postal Service’s 23,000 largest customers by addressing service issues, answering questions, and fulfilling other requests. Given the annual postal spend of this customer group – almost $38 billion in fiscal year 2013 alone – it clearly behooves the Postal Service to keep these customers happy.

    But retaining large commercial customers takes more than just putting out fires and answering questions. That’s why BSN employees have been encouraged to reach out to many commercial accounts to gain a better understanding of what customers need and with any luck, they can thwart service problems before they occur. Outreach also builds customer loyalty. And while the BSN’s 300 employees aren’t tasked with selling products and services – the Sales group does that – their face-to-face contact with commercial customers creates a key opportunity to do so.

    Our recent audit of the BSN shows just how valuable customer outreach can be. We found that the customer accounts BSN staff proactively contacted spent significantly more on postal services than those who were not contacted. And we estimated the Postal Service could have generated an additional $382 million by proactively contacting all BSN customers. Our report found other opportunities for improvement, too, such as resolving issues more quickly, collecting more customer feedback, and redesigning the BSN staff evaluation process.

    At the same time, the Postal Service is realizing it needs to beef up the BSN. During a recent meeting with mailer groups, management outlined some planned BSN enhancements. These include streamlining customer surveys, seeking ways to increase “personal” contact with commercial customers, reaching out to smaller customers, and treating all customer issues with the highest level of urgency.

    Share your thoughts on the BSN. What other ways could the Postal Service serve its commercial customers? Are there loyalty programs the Postal Service could try? 

  • on Jul 7th, 2014 in Products & Services | 6 comments

    It’s no secret what the advent of digital technology has done to mail volume, particularly First-Class Mail. But there’s an emerging digital technology catching hold that could be a boon to the U.S. Postal Service. It’s called 3D printing, and it’s expected to increase the number of lightweight parcels, a segment of the parcel market where the Postal Service excels.

    3D printers build solid objects usually one razor-thin layer at a time using plastics, powders, metals, polymers, or other materials. Examples include one-of-a-kind jewelry, custom-fit dental implants or hearing aids, unique iPhone cases, and the like. Mostly small-size things, at least so far. But one of the big advantages of 3D printing is the ability to customize just about anything to anyone’s taste or whim, and people increasingly like custom-made products.

    Retailers are already using 3D printers to make these kinds of goods, which consumers are buying and having shipped to them. The total 3D printing industry was valued at around $3 billion in 2013 but is expected to grow to $16.2 billion by 2018. And as it grows, 3D printing could lead to more single-item parcels being shipped to consumers over shorter distances, instead of hundreds of thousands of identical items sent by containerized cargo over vast distances.

    In our new white paper, If It Prints, It Ships: 3D Printing and the Postal Service, we explore how 3D printing could lead to an increase in packages delivered by the Postal Service representing $485 million in new annual revenue. Emerging 3D printing businesses could take advantage of the Postal Service’s unique and ubiquitous first- and last-mile network: Carriers already delivering mail every day, making the addition of lightweight parcels easy and cost-effective. And the Postal Service could partner with 3D printing businesses, perhaps using excess space in postal facilities, to help streamline the fast delivery of 3D printed goods.

    Tell us what you think:

    • How much experience have you had with 3D printing?
    • In what areas do you think 3D printing will have the most impact?
    • How could the Postal Service adapt its business strategy to handle a rise of 3D-printed goods?

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