• on Mar 30th, 2015 in Strategy & Public Policy | 1 comment

    The conventional wisdom on the future of print, if print has a future at all, is that old-fashioned books, magazines, and newspapers will still be around only as long as the generations that grew up with them are still around. But as older readers fade away, so will print because younger generations are all about digital communications. Or are they?

    Consider some interesting recent developments and facts:

    • The Pew Research Center found the current highest print readership rates are among those ages 18 to 29, and the same age group is still using public libraries in large numbers.
    • A new academic study showed that, despite the availability of free e-texts, today’s university students prefer dead-tree-based books because they don’t constantly distract you with a noisy alert to a new email or text message.
    • Focus groups of Digital Natives, a.k.a. Millennials, convened by our office showed the participants still value physical mail, especially if it includes some kind of interactive feature.

    Put all of this in the context of some recent European studies on the impact of digitization on reading, and maybe print isn’t going away anytime soon: People retain more details when reading a book than reading an e-book. Researchers said the early results suggest the tactile nature of paper and having words affixed to a page seem to help the reader process the text and better remember the story.

    A small Norwegian study of high school students came to a similar conclusion, having found that students who read textbooks in print scored significantly better on reading comprehension tests than those students who read digital texts.

    So maybe younger readers aren’t so different from older readers. It wouldn’t be the first time conventional wisdom was wrong. In fact, some of the same arguments are made about mail and other paper-based communications. Yet a study done by the UK’s Royal Mail showed physical media generated greater activity in certain parts of the brain and a stronger overall response than digital media. The study supported the concept that touch and tangibility matter to recipients.

    What things do you still like to read in print? Which do you prefer to read digitally? Are there other things you still prefer having in hard copy? Do you find you retain information better when reading from hard copy or a digital device? 

  • on Mar 9th, 2015 in Strategy & Public Policy | 0 comments

    It’s safe to say that sustainability has gone mainstream. It’s not just that “going green” is the responsible thing to do; it’s also good business.

    Take a look at Walmart’s website, or do a quick search on “corporate sustainability” and you’ll find another dozen or more well-known brands touting environmental sustainability is essential to doing business responsibly and successfully.

    The U.S. Postal Service, too, is trying to do its part, particularly with recycling. Since 2008, the Postal Service has recycled an average of about 220,000 tons of wastepaper, cardboard, cans, plastics, and other reusable materials. In fiscal year (FY) 2013, the Postal Service diverted about 40 percent of its solid waste to recycling, and the target is to divert 50 percent by the end of this fiscal year. The Postal Service also created the USPS BlueEarth federal recycling program to make it easy for federal agencies to recycle inkjet cartridges and unwanted electronic devices. Federal agencies simply send eligible items through the mail at no charge to a certified recycler that cleans data from the devices. A similar service is offered to Postal Service customers through the Return For Good program, which allows you to recycle eligible small electronics through participating third-party vendors and even get cash back for certain items.

    For business mailers, the Postal Service recently launched Secure Destruction, an optional service that lets First-Class Mail customers direct postal employees to shred and trash their undeliverable First Class letters rather than return them.

    Still, sustainability practices are constantly evolving and there’s always more to do. Indeed, our audit work identified some immediate opportunities for the Postal Service to increase recycling revenue by improving collection methods and recycling plastics.

    We welcome your input. What more could the Postal Service do around sustainability programs? What programs should it consider for individual customers? For business customers? For suppliers?

    Next week, our blog will look at the progress the Postal Service and other posts have made toward achieving their goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions 20 percent by 2020. 

  • on Feb 23rd, 2015 in Strategy & Public Policy | 23 comments

    Don’t let the decline in mail volumes over the past few years fool you. People still place a high value on postal services. Postal customers especially value being able to interact with postal employees at a Post Office as compared to other retail alternatives. And while some people might be indifferent to Saturday delivery of letters, they still value Saturday delivery for packages.

    These discoveries are among the key findings in our first-in-the-U.S quantitative survey on the value people place on the services the U.S. Postal Service provides as part of its universal service obligation (USO). In our earlier report on the USO, which looked at the collection of requirements that ensure all users of postal services receive a minimum level of service, we pointed out the need for a quantitative study – one that asks people if a higher level of service is valued enough to warrant the additional cost. We recently conducted such a study, What Postal Services Do People Value the Most?, with market research firm Gallup and postal economist Michael Bradley.

    The new study asked respondents to consider four aspects of the USO:

    • Mode of delivery;
    • Access to postal services;
    • Frequency of delivery; and
    • Price.

    We learned household customers place a high value on getting mail delivered to their door or to a curbside box rather than to cluster boxes or parcel lockers. Even for parcels, household consumers don’t like cluster box or parcel locker delivery, our survey found. At the highest parcel price in the survey, more than half of consumers would prefer paying the higher price to have delivery to the door, suggesting convenience trumps other factors for customers.

    And it turns out that people really like to go to the Post Office. Both households and businesses have a strong preference for visiting post offices for retail services over alternative access points, including kiosks. However, respondents were satisfied with keeping post offices open for just a few hours, and placed minimal value on normal business hours.

    Yet for all services, respondents indicated a limit to the amount of postage they would pay as a trade-off for higher levels of service. It seems both household and business customers value lower prices and might be willing to accept lower levels of service to keep prices from rising sharply.

    We welcome your input on our survey results. What aspects of the USO are most important to you? What levels of service do you feel the Postal Service should continue to provide? 

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