This is the time of year when retailers, nonprofit organizations, and other mailers step up their holiday advertising mailing campaigns. Volume spikes in this period, known as the fall mailing season, which then gives way to the even-busier holiday mailing season, when personal correspondence and packages spike. The U.S. Postal Service makes most of its money for the year in the period between Labor Day and Christmas.
Commercial mailers work closely with the Postal Service to help it prepare, but the fall mailing season has always presented operational challenges. In some ways, it is highly efficient because facilities are staffed for busy times. But postal equipment, including mail tubs, trays, mail transporting equipment, and pallets, have to be in the right places at the right times. In past years, commercial mailers have complained about shortages of mail equipment. Ideally, mail sorting equipment should run at optimal throughputs for maximum efficiency, and the online system mailers use to set up mail entry appointments should work seamlessly. Still, mail delays can occur for a variety of reasons, including mail processing errors, inefficient use of automation equipment, congestion on the facility floor, and working from incomplete operating plans.
The Postal Service’s fall mailing season plan attempts to eliminate roadblocks to swift processing and delivery. This year, it has ordered extra mail transport equipment and looked at ways to shift volume from heavily used equipment to under-used processing equipment. The Postal Service is also relying on the increased visibility from the Intelligent Mail barcode as a diagnostic tool to uncover bottlenecks. These tools helped it reduce mail delays in fall 2012 by showing “pinch points” and helping managers act on that information to reduce mail cycle times.
This year, however, could prove especially challenging as the Postal Service continues with its network consolidation implementation. It has completed more than 150 facility consolidations and has moved more than 700 pieces of equipment in support of the consolidations. With the late date of Thanksgiving this year, the end of fall mailing season pushes right into the peak mailing season for the holidays.
Mailers, what have your experiences been like so far this fall mailing season? Are there noticeable improvements in mail equipment availability, mail delivery times, and appointment opportunities? Has network consolidation posed any unexpected challenges?