• on May 11th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 3 comments

    The story goes that Alibaba founder Jack Ma chose his company’s name for two reasons: He wanted to be ahead of Amazon alphabetically and he wanted a global-sounding name. It didn’t hurt that some people also associated the word Alibaba with “hidden treasure” – recalling the most famous story from The Arabian Nights.

    Alibaba is China’s giant ecommerce platform that is now taking on the globe. Its September 2014 initial public offering in the United States was the largest ever, and Ma has signaled his interest in expanding here.

    Unlike Amazon, Alibaba doesn’t actually sell any goods; rather, it connects buyers and sellers. Its three main websites are Alibaba.com, which links Chinese exporters with companies around the world; Taobao.com, China’s biggest shopping site; and Tmall.com, a website of select branded goods targeted primarily to China’s middle class. Alibaba also offers a Paypal-like service called alipay.com.

    Some experts predict Alibaba could soon be the largest retail platform in the world. With 330 million active buyers, it is the fastest-growing ecommerce company in the fastest growing market in the world.

    So, what does all of this mean for the logistics and delivery markets? Well, a lot. Postal operators and private carriers are all trying to get in on Alibaba’s action. Last year, Alibaba bought a minority interest in Singapore Post and it signed an agreement with China Post to share facilities and resources to beef up delivery in China, especially in remote areas. Royal Mail recently announced it was joining Tmall.com to boost trade for its overseas parcels business.

    And Amazon, not one to reject any opportunity to expand its reach, is also joining the party. It just opened a store on Tmall.com.

    So, where might the U.S Postal Service fit in here? Do you see an opportunity for the Postal Service to partner with Alibaba? And what if Alibaba expands aggressively in the United States? How could the Postal Service position itself to be a player in that expansion?

     

  • on May 1st, 2015 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 1 comment

    Here’s the good news: Mailers accept and support the U.S. Postal Service’s Seamless Acceptance (SA) program. And here’s the bad news: Implementing the program hasn’t been very seamless.

    Ongoing data integrity problems, among other concerns, have delayed full implementation of the program. We found evidence of inaccuracy in the data and mailers raised similar concerns, prompting them to ignore the data, according to our recent audit report.

    Not the most auspicious start to a program designed to increase the efficiency of commercial mail entry, verification, and payment. Still, everyone involved wants the program to succeed. SA is expected to make mail acceptance faster and less complex, standardize the acceptance and verification process, and allow for a trend-based quality measurement system.

    Seamless Acceptance uses electronic documentation from a commercial mailer, intelligent mail barcodes, and various scanning devices to verify that the letter and flat mail a mailer is entering meets the Postal Service’s acceptance thresholds and that proper postage is collected. Twenty-nine major mailers have volunteered to participate in SA, tendering about 1.7 billion mailpieces each month. Another 288 mailers volunteered to participate in a preparatory phase of the program known as Seamless Parallel, which helps introduce mailers to SA.

    Our recent audit report noted that while the Postal Service has reported progress in implementing SA, delays continue due to ongoing data integrity issues, as well as customer service and communications hurdles. The Postal Service’s initial goal was to have the full SA program in place by last September. But a series of delays has pushed that date back to July 2015. Notably, problems remain with the scorecard data provided to mailers; postal staff members have limited access to relevant reports and data; and there is inconsistent communication between the Postal Service and participating mailers.

    If you are a commercial mailer currently participating in SA, what are you seeing in terms of data quality, customer service, and communication? If you are not a current participant, are you interested in joining the SA program? If not, what is holding you back?

  • on Apr 27th, 2015 in Delivery & Collection | 12 comments

    The Midwest is the nation’s “breadbasket.” New England has its Patriots. Appalachia loves its bluegrass music. And it never rains in Southern California. We all associate certain things with different regions of the country. Now, it seems, one of those things is mail volume. 

    The decline in mail volume may be more nuanced than some realized, data in our new white paper suggests. Take the drop in First-Class Mail (FCM), for instance. The math clearly shows that from fiscal years 1995 to 2013, FCM single-piece volume fell by a total 61 percent nationally. But a close look into the geographic details reveals the rate of FCM decline varies widely by location. So widely, in fact, that the U.S. Postal Service should keep it in mind as it right-sizes its network and considers new products and services. 

    Everything’s bigger in Texas, right? In Dallas, the percent of FCM volume lost was far greater than 61 percent, while in other areas – like Charleston, WV – it was close to zero. Moreover, the rate of decline is slowing or has even stopped in many of the areas that have lost the most mail volume. The details are all in Declines in U.S. Postal Service Mail Volume Vary Widely Across the United States.

    We know from the most recent Postal Service Household Diary Study that college graduates consistently send about twice as much mail as people without high school diplomas, and mail use in general increases substantially with income and age. However, the rates of mail decline are very similar across these demographic groups. We’ll need to look elsewhere for a good explanation of why mail use varies so much by region.

    As the Postal Service continues to adjust its network and its strategy for the future, it must be mindful that the needs of its customers vary at least as widely as these differences in mail volumes. Simply put, there is no average or typical postal customer. Strategic planning designed around average mail volume data will inevitably result in inefficient solutions. The Postal Service would therefore do well to try gaining a better understanding of why these varying rates of FCM decline are occurring.

    Tell us your thoughts: Why do you think mail volume declines vary by region? Do you see an opportunity to launch “regional” strategies of any kind?  

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