The U.S. Postal Service recently announced that it would study approximately 3,700 postal retail facilities which are candidates for consolidation. Many policymakers and Postal Service customers have expressed concern over the effect these potential consolidations will have on access to postal services and as well as the social life of rural communities where the local post office acted as a gathering point for the community.
In an attempt to address some of these concerns, the Postal Service revealed plans to offer its services through authorized third party vendors, including drug stores, grocery stores, and office supply stores. These Village Post Offices (VPO) would be operated by the vendor and sell popular products and services such as stamps and flat-rate packaging.
The Postal Service’s primary benefit would be lower labor and facilities maintenance costs from replacing traditional, free-standing post offices with Village Post Offices. There are also potential benefits to consumers. First, postal services could be more conveniently accessed by customers who already patronize the third party vendors. Second, the co-location may actually help to strengthen community ties. Third, the VPOs may be open longer hours.
However, there may also be drawbacks to switching from traditional post offices to VPOs. First, the quality and level of service may vary between communities as VPOs would be managed by many different private vendors. In addition, as with any effort involving public-private partnerships, oversight issues may arise. Finally, because VPOs will be operated by private vendors, the role of the post office as a public space may be lost.
Are Village Post Offices a viable substitute for tradition postal retail facilities? Can service standards be maintained? Which type of vendors do you believe would be most suitable as a host for a VPO?