• on Feb 23rd, 2015 in Strategy & Public Policy | 7 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? 

  • on Feb 9th, 2015 in Products & Services | 3 comments

    People may not like getting bills, but they prefer to receive them in the mail and pay them online.

    That’s the finding of our study on transactional mail, which is made up mostly of household bills and payments moving as First-Class Mail.

    We collaborated with the consulting firm InfoTrends to analyze 3 months’ worth of customer billing data from a major U. S. utility. We also jointly interviewed executives who manage bill delivery and payment processing to help determine how the utility’s delivery-and-payment costs and customer preferences compare with those at other utilities and even in other industries.

    As you can see in our new white paper, Will the Check Be in the Mail? An Examination of Paper and Electronic Transactional Mail, we found that despite a clear preference to pay bills online, 91 percent of customers prefer receiving their bills by mail. Even among the utility’s newest customers — those expected to be more digitally savvy — an average of 89 percent opted to have their bills mailed to them, though, like the others, most preferred paying online.

    The reasons are pretty simple. People like having a physical mailpiece as a reminder to pay and as a record-keeping tool. The execs we spoke with said our results are consistent with what they’ve been seeing and hearing.

    It’s also consistent with another clear directive from consumers: they want options in just about everything, including bill delivery and payment. So, in addition to being good news for mail, our findings suggest that a company offering a variety of bill delivery and payment options will keep customers happy.

    Do you prefer receiving your bills via regular mail or email/text? How about paying – do you pay online or ‘is the check in the mail’? 

  • on Feb 2nd, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 9 comments

    You can’t cut your way to prosperity. It’s a common saying in business circles, particularly in the mailing industry. The U.S. Postal Service has done a good job cutting costs, yet still needs to grow revenue with new products and services.

    Indeed, recent reports suggest a sure way for a post to boost revenue is by offering customers a range of innovative products, such as parcels, logistics, banking, insurance, and digital services. Many of our papers have encouraged the Postal Service to explore these kinds of revenue-generating products and services.

    Yet diversification doesn’t necessarily mean wandering too far from the mission, or reinventing the wheel. Good ideas can be found close to home, using existing assets. Our most recent paper, Revenue Opportunities for Innovative Mail Services, presented some ideas that could take advantage of the Postal Service’s existing network, brand, excess facilities, equipment, or other assets.

    For example, we looked at International Mail Forwarding (IMF), a service that provides recipients a U.S. address from which packages and mail can be collected, held, digitally scanned, or shipped anywhere in the world. This booming business – a current U.S. market of over $1 billion from service and shipping revenue – is expected to grow even more because foreigners need a U.S.-based address to buy online from U.S. companies. Given the Postal Service’s reputation for being secure and trustworthy, and its experience in international delivery, it could grow quickly in the IMF market, our research indicated.

    We saw another opportunity in continuity shipping, a service where a consumer agrees to receive merchandise automatically at regular intervals until canceling the shipments. This established and growing segment of the retail industry is an integral part of eCommerce fulfillment because it helps automate merchandise shipment and return. Given the Postal Service’s expansive facility and transportation networks, and experience with parcels, it is in a strategic position to offer continuity shipping services.

    These types of products would take advantage of the Postal Service’s existing assets and experience. In addition, they open the door to further innovation and value-added services. Are there other innovative ideas that are similarly “close to home” and worth exploring? Do you think these types of ideas have merit? Is there value in smaller revenue products or should the Postal Service not waste time on smaller projects? 

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