• on Oct 13th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 15 comments

    People care a lot about their local post offices, at least if the number of news stories on the topic and the comments we receive on our blog and Audit Project pages are indications.

    For some, the neighborhood Post Office serves as everything from the source of a community’s name and identity, to a spot where neighbors can connect and keep track of each other. Of course the Post Office is also the place where folks drop off holiday goodies and care packages, or buy stamps and other mailing supplies. And rentable Post Office boxes create physical addresses for local entrepreneurs.

    So, it’s no surprise that when the Postal Service decides to relocate a Post Office – whether moving it to a less costly property or consolidating several facilities into one –communities have an opinion about it.

    The ubiquity of its Post Office network is one of the Postal Service’s most valuable assets. But, the Postal Service says more than one-third of postal retail purchases are now made somewhere other than a Post Office, including on usps.com. It’s therefore understandable that the Postal Service is making changes, such as instituting shorter hours of operation, encouraging local businesses to offer some postal services, or consolidating low-traffic facilities.

    The Postal Service recognizes that it matters to customers when their local Post Office is shuttered. And there are specific regulations and guidelines designed to give affected communities information about planned moves, and the right to appeal portions of those plans. But is the Postal Service following the letter and spirit of those regulations and guidelines? Our recent audit looked at the relocation process and we found it could be more transparent. The public may not always have the information it needs, when it needs it, to understand the implications of relocations and make meaningful comments on them.

    What about you? If you have experienced a Post Office relocation in your community, were you satisfied with how and when you were informed? What, if any, changes could be made to make Post Office relocations more transparent or otherwise improve the process? 

  • on Aug 11th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    Say you’re about to drive off for vacation in less than 48 hours, but you suddenly realize your license has expired. The nearest DMV office is 15 miles away, the waiting line probably just as long, and there’s just too much else to do to get ready. But imagine now that you can go to your local Post Office, which can handle the renewal right there and then.

    That’s just one of the many possibilities discussed at a roundtable we recently co-organized with the Postal Innovation Platform. The topic: opportunities for postal operators everywhere to simultaneously expand business while partnering with their respective governmental agencies to better serve the public. Experts from academia, government, and the private sector looked at how postal operators could leverage their assets and capabilities to successfully meet the changing needs of government. Our newest white paper recaps in detail the main points and highlights of the roundtable.

    Perhaps the most significant point raised: Posts in every country have features and resources that give them competitive advantages over others in the e-government space. For instance, they have unrivaled networks of post offices and delivery services, which could help bring government services closer to remote areas, where Internet access is minimal or nonexistent. Given their traditional role as trusted intermediaries, posts can also offer services that require privacy and security: payments, document certification and notarization, management of electronic health records, and voting by mail, among others.

    Several postal operators already partner with government in some of these ways. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, has long helped the U.S. State Department process passport applications, and Poste Italiane issues notices of traffic violations and collects payments. But tell us: What other government services would you like the Postal Service to be able to offer? Driver license renewal? Marriage licenses? Any of the services listed above? Something else?  

  • on Feb 22nd, 2014 in Products & Services | 3 comments

    Postal customers took fewer trips to the Post Office this past holiday season but that doesn’t mean they spent less on postal products. They just conducted more business through alternative channels, such as online at USPS.com and self-service kiosks. Over the 2013 holiday season, transactions at brick-and-mortar post offices were down 8 percent compared to last year, but transactions through alternative access were up 17 percent, postal officials reported.

    The movement to online postage transactions certainly mirrors the larger societal shift toward e-commerce and mobile commerce. But the big shift over the holidays to alternative access could also be the result of reduced hours at some post offices. Customers will shop where they find it most convenient, and in some locations post offices are opened only a few hours a day. This certainly makes Village Post Offices and contract postal units, self-service kiosks, and online purchasing more attractive. Many of these options are available 24 hours a day.

    The U.S. Postal Service recognizes that it needs to be where people find it most convenient to buy postage or other mailing services. The Postmaster General stated as much at the recent Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee meeting when addressing alternative access, including the Postal Service’s decision to partner with Staples. But alternative access retail options have limitations, which if not addressed could frustrate customers and leave some money on the table.

    Our recent audit of self-service kiosks found that customers are not using kiosks as much as anticipated for a few reasons: they sometimes are located in hidden parts of the lobby; kiosk signage is not always visible; and lobby assistants are not always available or fully trained to help customers help themselves. In addition, self-service kiosks are generally housed in retail outlets with the highest mail volume, primarily urban and suburban areas. Low-traffic retail outlets, often in rural areas, get a double whammy. They are not likely to have a kiosk and their Post Office hours are reduced.

    How can the Postal Service ensure that customers receive suitable services while reining in operating costs? Does the Postal Service need more self-service kiosks, or should it redistribute the 2,500 now in service? What incentives might the Postal Service offer merchants to house Village Post Offices? Or should the Postal Service restore hours to its own post offices, even those that are not profitable? 

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