• on Dec 29th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 7 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 Dec 22nd, 2014 in OIG | 1 comment

     

    Pushing the Envelope wishes our readers a joyful holiday season and a prosperous new year. We will take a break this week, but we encourage you to read over the past year’s blogs and let us know what you think on any of the wide range of topics we covered in 2014. We post comments as they come in, even if you comment on a blog that ran years ago.

    On January 5 we will share our annual list of the Top 10 Postal Stories of the Year – one of our most popular blogs. As always, we look forward to your comments and insights. 

  • on Dec 15th, 2014 in Strategy & Public Policy | 22 comments

    Is the U.S. Postal Service a business or a public service organization? Well, it’s actually both, and those overlapping – and sometimes conflicting – obligations have created major challenges for the agency over the years.

    Historically, the Post Office was deliberately used by the government to expand transportation services such as roads and passenger air service. In the modern era, the 1968 President’s commission on postal issues, known as the Kappel Commission, declared the Post Office to be a business; however, the Postal Service continues to provide infrastructure services that not all businesses would provide, such as maintaining needed rural post offices that operate at a loss.

    It was easier to manage the ongoing tension between the Postal Service’s dual mandates when postal revenues were strong enough to sustain the infrastructure and also cover all of the agency’s operating costs. But today, the Digital Age is cutting into the volume of the product that contributes more than half of the funds to support the network: First-Class Mail. And this strain has led to more tension between the Postal Service as a public service provider and as a business. Meanwhile, new technologies and global commerce are changing the nation’s infrastructure needs. The Postal Service would benefit from more clarity about what it should offer in this evolving environment.

    Our new white paper, The Postal Service’s Role as Infrastructure, gives three broad options the Postal Service and its stakeholders could consider when deciding how to adapt the Postal Service’s role for the future. These options are not mutually exclusive. But they should be evaluated together so all potential uses are recognized and accounted for as part of major changes to the size and scope of the Postal Service’s infrastructure.

    • Option 1: Adjust the postal network to the changing demand for mail and the growth in parcels. The Postal Service is making efforts to do this now.
    • Option 2: Repurpose the existing infrastructure to address innovative services and new revenue streams, such as micro-warehousing.
    • Option 3: Increase the value of the physical postal infrastructure by digitally enhancing it. For example, carriers could use mobile handheld devices to perform more services at the door or from the truck, such as selling stamps, accepting Cash-on-Delivery (COD) payments, recharging debit cards, or even processing passports.

    What do you think? What options should stakeholders and the Postal Service consider? Is the Postal Service’s role as a national infrastructure still relevant today and how has it changed? 

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