• 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 Mar 16th, 2015 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 1 comment

    This is the second blog in our two-part series on sustainability. Last week’s blog, Green Scene, focused on recycling efforts.

    When do growth and reduction go hand-in-hand? When the world’s posts are trying to grow their business but reduce their carbon footprint.

    The 25 national postal operators that make up the International Post Corporation (IPC) have made great strides toward achieving their carbon dioxide emission reduction goals, but they hit a bump in 2013 and 2014. A coalition of the world’s industrialized posts, the IPC is aiming to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020. Half of the IPC members have already reached the target. But last year marked the first increase in emissions from the use of heating and transport fuel for the group as a whole since the IPC environmental measurement program began in 2009.

    One reason for the backsliding is actually a good problem. The global growth in e-commerce, which has boosted the posts’ number of parcel deliveries, is making emission reduction targets more challenging. Especially harsh winters in some countries and a big increase in size in one of the operator’s delivery networks have also contributed to the posts’ higher fuel consumption.

    IPC officials are stressing the importance of switching to renewable energy, either self-generated or purchased, wherever possible.

    The U.S. Postal Service is one of the 25 posts taking part in the IPC Environmental Measurement and Monitoring Program. It’s also one of the posts that saw its transportation fuel use increase. In its 2014 Sustainability Report, the Postal Service notes that “an aging [postal vehicle] fleet and the need to service more delivery points are pushing our fuel demand upward.” Still, the Postal Service must continue its efforts to manage its fuel resources as efficiently as possible, for both its own fleet and its contracting vehicles. (Our 2014 audit report offered recommendations on encouraging fuel efficient practices in highway contract routes.) This should get easier in the next couple of years as the Postal Service replaces its long-life vehicle fleet. This summer the Postal Service will select vendors to build new vehicle prototypes and it will award a contract of up to $6.3 billion over several years beginning in 2017.

    With continued parcel growth expected, how can the world’s posts meet the demands of customers while reducing their carbon footprints? What technologies might benefit the Postal Service specifically? 

  • on Aug 5th, 2013 in Delivery & Collection | 2 comments

    Global e-commerce sales topped $1 trillion for the first time in 2012 and they are expected to grow another 19 percent this year, according to data from research firm eMarketer.com. While North America leads the world in online sales, Asia is expected to take the mantle by the end of this year. China drives Asia’s growth and this year it should surpass Japan as the world’s second largest e-commerce behind the United States and its $385 billion in online sales.

    This global boom in e-commerce has helped to fuel growth in the package delivery market, prompting the shipping giants, including the U.S. Postal Service, to jostle for shares of this market. The global e-commerce surge has also benefited American companies, who are looking to foreign customers to expand sales and revenues. Surprisingly, a number of well-known retailers only began offering international shipping from their websites a few years ago, including Macy’s, Williams Sonoma, J. Crew, and Crate and Barrel. One reason for the late entry is that shipping beyond the United States is not so simple. As a New York Times article noted last year, the problems include customs, addressing, and postal and shipping fees. In some cases, the cost to ship the package could double the total cost of the order.

    Another hurdle is package returns. Even as retailers figure out how best to reach their overseas customers, they are discovering that customers find it difficult to return packages. The Postal Service recognized an opportunity to simplify that process for online retailers and later this month it will begin a market test of a new international e-commerce return service. International Merchandise Return Service will allow foreign consumers to return unwanted products purchased from American retailers’ websites back to the U.S. The service creates return labels with postage payment, allowing the buyer to print off a label and return the item through the post.

    Modeled after its domestic returns service, the Postal Service expects International Merchandise Return Service to simplify international returns for customers and improve their overall experience, which should encourage even more online shopping. The Postal Service will test the service for 2 years on online sales to Canada and Australia, negotiating prices and agreements with American companies that participate.

    What other ways could the Postal Service improve the international shipping experience for retailers and their customers? How else could the Postal Service tap into the global e-commerce market? Do any of its domestic services provide good templates or lend themselves to adoption for the international market?