As the U.S. Postal Service remakes itself into a leaner organization in the face of a communications revolution, it still remains a powerful medium and an important part of the nation’s infrastructure. A smaller Postal Service will still be huge, with more than $60 billion in projected revenue. It will not disappear tomorrow. A lingering concern remains, however, that the Postal Service is becoming less relevant to younger Americans. A recent public opinion poll by The New York Times and CBS supports this conclusion. According to the poll, only 30 percent of people under 45 say they use the mail “all the time.” While daily reliance on the Postal Service is still high for older generations, these poll results raise questions about the organization’s long-term future if physical mail does not play a role in the lives of younger Americans. A Pew Research study shows these younger generations turn to the Internet and smart devices for their news, entertainment, and to connect with friends and family. The Postal Service and traditional hard-copy communication vehicles will find it hard to win customers that have grown up as digital natives. Still, other polls suggest that hard copy and direct mail remain an important part of the media mix, even for those under the age 35. A 2011 survey by Pitney Bowes indicated that marketers under the age of 35 are more likely to use direct mail in their marketing mix than their older counterparts. Package delivery also remains an opportunity for the Postal Service as younger Americans are more likely than older generations to shop online. What do you think is the best way for the Postal Service to serve a younger demographic? Should it attempt to promote its traditional products to younger Americans and tout the benefits of hard copy as a complement or supplement to digital? Should the Postal Service instead focus on expanding its digital offerings? Is there another strategy?
on Sep 3rd, 2012
in Products & Services
| 9 comments
on Aug 27th, 2012
in Mail Processing & Transportation
| 18 comments
The U.S. Postal Service owns more than 213,000 vehicles, the largest civilian fleet in the world. Many of these vehicles are reaching the end of their operational lives, prompting the Postal Service to wrestle with how best to address its long-term vehicle needs. A recent Government Accountability Office report noted that the organization’s current financial situation poses a significant barrier to vehicle replacement or refurbishment. Attention has primarily been given to the Postal Service’s delivery fleet of left-hand drive trucks and minivans, which make up almost 85 percent of its entire fleet. However, the Postal Service also operates a large fleet of tractor trailers to haul mail from one processing facility to another or to stations and branches. Many of these trucks have exceeded their usage expectancy. The Postal Service has about 1,800 tractors and almost 3,900 trailers. The trailers come in various sizes to accommodate different-sized docks and to navigate various locations. Some locations, such as New York City, cannot accommodate the larger 53-foot trailers. It would cost roughly $135,000 to replace each tractor and another $45,000 to replace a standard-sized trailer. Trailer specifications are unique to the Postal Service, making “off the shelf” purchases impossible. In addition, the Postal Service needs to refurbish the tractors to meet the emissions standards in each state. These standards and the deadlines for achieving them vary by state. The cost to retrofit the existing fleet would vary depending on the standards needing to be met. With its current cash crunch, the Postal Service lacks the capital to invest immediately in upgrading its fleet. Yet an overhaul of the fleet of some kind is needed. Are there alternatives to replacing the fleet of tractor trailers? Could the Postal Service hire contractors to perform the work now done by its own fleet? Contracting out is the most common way the Postal Service acquires transportation. The Postal Service already contracts with 15,000 highway contract route (HCR) suppliers to cover more than 1.2 billion miles of mostly long-haul mail transportation. Or is contracting out not feasible given the Postal Service’s unique and varied needs for its tractor trailer fleet? Should the Postal Service lease new trailers and have Postal Service Vehicle drivers perform the work? Or, could the Postal Service consider new financing arrangements, such as taking a bank loan like a private transport company does, which would allow it to purchase trailers over time? Or does replacing the fleet all at once through a competitive bidding process provide the Postal Service with the strongest purchasing power? If so, how should the Postal Service pay for this replacement?
on Aug 20th, 2012
in Pricing & Rates
| 5 comments
Since the beginning of the Post Office and the Postal Act of 1792, certain types of mail have qualified for lower postage through preferred rates. It was assumed that these types of mailings yield social benefits for senders, recipients, and more importantly, a large nation. Preferred rates’ roots trace to the first federal postal policy, which recognized that disseminating newspapers at below-cost postage would advance the important social goal of educating the electorate. Soon after, magazines received special rates. For its first 50 years, the Post Office was predominantly a newspaper circulation service, because of the high cost of sending letter mail. (Sending a one-sheet letter 500 miles cost 25 cents, while sending a newspaper that distance cost only 1½ cents.) As the Post Office evolved over the next century, so too did the rates it charged for various types of mail. Regular letter mail rates were lowered to be more in line with the newspaper rate. Still, Congress considered a preferred rate for socially important mail to be so crucial it extended eligibility to more types of mail. A class structure was introduced to organize the types of mail. In 1894, Congress allowed nonprofit organizations to send their publications at second-class rates, the rates for newspapers and magazines. That statutory language evolved to create the nonprofit subclass in Second Class, a class now known as Periodicals. In the late 1920s, Congress added Library Mail as a preferred rate for mail sent to or from libraries. In the 1930s, President Roosevelt created a preferred rate for all books that is now known as Media Mail. In 1951, after 2 years of deliberation and strong appeals by charities and philanthropic groups, Congress created a nonprofit subclass in Third Class, today’s Standard Mail. When all of these preferred rates were established, congressional appropriations funded the Postal Service’s operations. And even until 1993, Congress appropriated funds to reimburse the Postal Service for revenues it lost by providing below-cost rates for certain types of preferred mail. Today, the Postal Service receives only a small appropriation for free mail for the blind and overseas voting. All other costs are borne by mailers. At times, Congress has reconsidered the public policy benefits of preferred mail in light of the potential for abuse and in consideration of the Postal Service’s financial condition. As we again dive into reform of the Postal Service, is it time to reconsider the modern application of preferred postage rates? Since the Postal Service uses revenues from postage to fund operations, can it afford to offer some types of mailings reduced postage through preferred rates? Or, does the nation continue to benefit when certain types of mail qualify for preferred rates? How should preferred categories be selected? Do you agree with the current categories or should other types of mail qualify for preferred rates?