• on Dec 29th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 9 comments

    With 1 billion smartphones shipped in 2013, it’s safe to say mobile devices are the future of shopping, banking, and transactions – if not everything. Retailers and technology companies certainly agree, as they race to provide consumers with the ideal mobile payment system.

    Before the holidays, Apple unveiled Apple Pay, a wireless payment system. Thanks to near-field communication technology, Apple Pay lets owners of the newest Apple phones and products pay for goods by scanning their phones on a payment terminal. The Apple Pay account links to a customer’s credit or debit card.

    The company has teamed up with a number of major credit card companies and banks, and therein lies the first potential limitation to the system’s success. Users must have a debit or credit card with one of the approved partners. And they must own a newer Apple device.

    Moreover, some retailers aren’t accepting Apple Pay, including CVS and Rite Aid. Why? Possibly because they – along with Target, Walmart, and others – are developing their own mobile wallet and payment system that would avoid swipe fees and other transaction fees retailers pay to credit card companies. Google Wallet is another option in the mobile payment market, but it, too, only works on newer devices and users still need to link the app to a credit card. This might just be the biggest obstacle of all – developing a mobile wallet that offers consumers more value and ease than just pulling out a credit card.

    Finally, security of data and access to consumer data remain key elements. Do mobile payment solutions protect a consumer’s bank account and credit data? And who has access to the valuable consumer data?

    Still, experts expect mobile payment systems to eventually flourish. Indeed, The Guardian recently suggested the Postal Service “could serve as the backbone” for a new payment system by incorporating a mobile payment app into a basic financial services offering.

    What do you think? Is there a role for the Postal Service in mobile payment apps? Or is this an area best served by the private sector? 

  • on Nov 26th, 2012 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 18 comments
    This holiday season many of us will find ourselves rushing from one errand to the next, often visiting a variety of stores to accomplish all of our tasks. Wouldn’t “one-stop shopping” be easier? Wouldn’t it be nice to get everything from shopping to wrapping to shipping taken care of in a single trip? Locations offering a multitude of services potentially increase foot traffic because of the convenience they offer. They also create opportunities for the company to sell more products and services to its customers. In other countries, such as Sweden and Australia, the trend has been toward placing postal counters in grocery stores and pharmacies, often located in shopping malls. Customers can buy stamps or ship their packages while they are shopping for food and other staples. In the United States, grocery and other retail stores sell stamps at check-out counters, but do not offer shipping options. Office supply and other approved shipping stores offer a range of Postal Service mailing services including Priority and Express mail. Customers find that using these stores for their mailing needs saves time and effort because many of these retail outlets have longer hours than post offices and are conveniently located. E-commerce and mobile commerce have proven to be a popular choice for consumers who enjoy the convenience of shopping at home. Online retailers ship directly to the purchaser’s home, or wrap and ship gift purchases directly to their recipients. If customers want to wrap the package or gift themselves, the Postal Service’s Carrier Pick-up service will retrieve the package at their doorstep for shipping. While e-commerce and mobile commerce can offer purchasing, wrapping, and shipping from home, some people prefer physically browsing and purchasing items from brick-and-mortar retail outlets. This holiday season, a shopper might first visit a retail outlet to make your purchases, go home and wrap the gifts, and then go back out to ship the item. That's at least three trips and two lines, just to send one package! Does shopping, purchasing, wrapping, and sending your item in one stop sound better? With postal counters in strategic locations, all of your needs could be met in one stop. Would gift-wrapping services be an added bonus? If Post Office functions could be moved into retail spaces, what areas or types of stores best lend themselves to this effort? Share your ideas in the comment section below.
  • on Oct 25th, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 8 comments
    A recent consumer study released by Epsilon Targeting shows direct mail is still important to us. As a method to advertise goods and services, direct mail plays a major role in many consumer decisions — especially among young adults. The market research firm conducted a survey of adults in more than 4,700 U.S. and Canadian households, looking at their preferences among the traditional and new media channels for obtaining information. The survey confirmed findings from 2008, which noted that consumers are using a larger number of media, with their choices influenced by factor, such as convenience, trust, depth of content, and the “green factor.” The survey indicated younger consumers not only found direct mail to be more trustworthy than other channels, including online, but also found that it was the preferred channel for obtaining information. In the 14 consumer categories covered in the survey, American respondents in the 18-34 year age bracket preferred mail as an information source by a wide margin in almost every category, except travel. Although there’s little doubt e-mail and social networking have found a way into the marketing mix, the findings of this study show that direct mail and other “offline” media still play a role with consumers across every age. Does direct mail still play a role in your shopping choices? Let us know! This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).