• on Sep 29th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 3 comments

    Tea leaves, crystal balls, palm readings: There are lots of ways to try to predict the future . . . and most of them are useless. Still, careful examination of measurable indicators — and a little imagination — can yield some clues as to what may lie ahead. That’s good news for the U.S. Postal Service, because if there’s anything that faces an uncertain future right now, it’s the nearly 240-year-old institution that delivers your mail every day.

    To get a sense of what America’s postal needs might be a decade from now and how the Postal Service could fulfill them, we recently undertook a study that included (a) researching projections for more than 80 social, technological, and industrial trends, (b) reviewing hundreds of articles, and (c) interviewing experts.

    Some indicators are fairly certain. The ongoing demographic rise of the Millennial generation – now larger than Baby Boomers – means that the wants and needs of those born largely after 1980 will profoundly affect the economy as previous generations retire. Others are less certain, such as how much of a role 3D printing will play and to what extent it could affect the package-shipping industry.

    We then used scenario planning, a common methodology for understanding and exploring possible futures by designing and evaluating hypothetical situations based on different combinations of trends. Result: Four possible ways the world could look in 10 years, and ways the Postal Service could serve its customers in each scenario. It’s all detailed in our newly released white paper, The Postal Customers of the Future.

    Can you predict how you will use the mail 10 years from now? Could you imagine the Postal Service saving you time and money by helping you share, say, power tools with people in your city? Would you pop into a Post Office to check out a new product a local entrepreneur 3D-printed there?

  • on Dec 16th, 2013 in Products & Services | 2 comments

    Holiday greeting cards still outweigh e-cards in terms of sentiment and personal touch, recent surveys indicate. Even digital natives say a card in the mail evokes a stronger reaction than a text or email. Yet, each year, fewer and fewer people are sending holiday greeting cards through the mail.

    In 2011, American households on average sent about 16 holiday greeting cards, according to the Postal Service’s recently released 2012 Household Diary Study report. Twelve years earlier, 23 holiday cards were sent. Data from the Greeting Card Association also chart the downward trend: U.S. consumers bought 1.5 billion holiday cards in 2011, compared to 2.7 billion in 1995.

    Still, mailed holiday greeting cards remain an important component of the Postal Service’s revenues for the year, as single-piece First-Class letters are one of the Postal Service’s most profitable products. While mail is not as seasonal as it used to be, a strong holiday season still sets the tone for the entire fiscal year.

    It seems unlikely that this trend in holiday greeting cards can be easily reversed, given the overall decline in mail use and a growing comfort with digital communications. But, perhaps some small innovations might revive interest in sending holiday greeting cards. For example, Australia Post is pioneering the use of “video stamps” – a recorded 15-second video that the addressee can view using a smart phone app. While the post is allowing the stamps on parcels only at the moment, a similar type QR code might provide an interesting opportunity for greeting cards.

    What other innovations or digital enhancements might work well on hard-copy greeting cards? Do you plan on sending greeting cards this year? Do you expect to send more or fewer cards than last year? 

  • on Nov 18th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 1 comment

    The generation known as Digital Natives – born and raised in the age of the Internet – are said to live much of their lives online in one way or another. Indeed, while use of email is hardly exclusive to their demographic, it’s no coincidence that their rise has corresponded with the decline of mail volume.

    Now that Digital Natives account for the largest segment of the American population and are growing more influential every year in their buying power, it’s more important than ever to ensure the U.S. Postal Service is engaging this group. But do Digital Natives currently see any value in the mail?

    Surprisingly, yes. In our recently released white paper, Enhancing Mail for Digital Natives, we found Digital Natives have an abiding interest in the mail. In fact, Digital Natives check their mailboxes daily. They’re mainly interested in packages – things bought online, of course – but they also like regular mailpieces, especially those that integrate some type of digital technology, like augmented reality. Digital Natives said that if regular mail ever disappeared they would be unhappy for a variety of reasons - citing everything from no more handwritten notes to postal employees who would be out of a job.

    The white paper analyzes results from Digital Native focus groups recently convened specifically to assess current uses and perceptions of the mail. And some of those results are interesting, to say the least:

    • Digital Natives feel an emotional attachment to mail that they don’t feel with digital communications.
    • Digital Natives still appreciate receiving certain types of physical mail that are useful, such as coupons, and are more likely to use them when the hard copy coupon can be uploaded and used through a smartphone.
    • Their anticipation of packages leads them not only to check their mail daily but also look at mail they might otherwise ignore.
    • Digital natives still look at catalogs, but catalogs are more likely to lead to a purchase if they can be scanned by mobile phones or tablets.

    The paper details these and other findings that could help both the Postal Service and mailers develop strategies for making mail even more appealing to Digital Natives, and thus continue to meet current and future public needs.

    Do you agree with the findings of the focus groups, especially if you consider yourself a Digital Native? Let us know what you think. 

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