on Apr 23rd, 2013 | 45 comments

In today’s mobile society, people socialize, shop, work, and play anywhere and everywhere. Yet even as many aspects of communications and commerce have gone mobile, the physical address has remained static. Wouldn’t it be convenient if you could direct your mail to meet you wherever you go? So, instead of going to your mailbox, your mailbox came to you.

In our recently released white paper “Virtual Post Office Boxes”, we consider a concept that would offer portability to your address, just like email and phone numbers. The Virtual Post Office (PO) Box gives customers control over where, when, and how they receive their mail and packages. Much like the venerable PO Box service, the Virtual PO Box would provide users with an alternate address instead of their residential address. Virtual PO Box customers could log into their www.usps.com accounts to link this address with any physical address, including a home or business address, a nearby Post Office, a physical PO Box locker, or even a gopost® parcel locker.

The paper suggests users could accept or redirect letters, flats, and parcels online or from their smart devices to an alternate address, a temporary address, or even a parcel locker in their desired location. Customers could receive immediate notification via email or text message when new mailpieces have arrived. They then could determine where they wanted them delivered. For example, a person on vacation may request that his or her packages be delivered to a nearby gopost parcel locker. In today’s increasingly digital and mobile world, the service would provide a “just in time” element to the flow of mail and give customers numerous options. They could choose from many delivery options, however, destruction of the mail would not be an option.

The capabilities and features of a Virtual PO Box could:

  • Give a physical dimension to email and smart devices by linking a customer’s email addresses to his or hers Virtual PO Box address and residential address for parcel fulfillment and other activities.
  • Validate the identity of users for merchants and in peer-to-peer sales, while concealing home addresses and personal information.
  • Allow foreign customers to shop online and provide merchants with a U.S. address for parcel delivery and returns.
  • Provide small businesses the ability to possess a vanity address and use the Virtual PO Box as a micro-warehouse.

Some challenges of a Virtual PO Box, range from operations and technical issues to preventing fraud in international shipments. The paper also contemplates some possible future enhancements and best ways to pursue the concept, such as partnering with companies that now provide similar services.


If offered, which services would you use? Would you be willing to pay more for premium services, such as international shipments and returns? Do you see any problems with offering or implementing such a service? Share your thoughts below.

Does a Virtual PO Box service appeal to you?


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I would absolutely love this !! It lets people keep their privacy and mobility. I am _especially_ interested in the reverse hybrid mail service. I have been wanting that for a decade – ever since the USPS went online… too bad it’s taken this long for you guys to realize this need.

This would be so GREAT! Especially for those of use who move around a lot and have mail lost because of a constantly updating address. Please implement this!

Just another way to get rid of jobs.

Again technology is good, but technology is bad, how many jobs will this cost us. everyone is so on to this, but if it were your job on the line you probably would’nt feel this way. anyway the Postal service upper management will probably screw that up the way they screw everything else up.

I like the idea of putting more control in the hands of the customer — even if the senders of mail might not like the idea of letting customers decide what to do with their mail before it even hits their mailbox. But I think giving customers control puts greater value on mail. If I really want what’s in my mailbox, I want it where I am going to be. If I don’t care what’s in my mailbox, I won’t sign up for Virtual PO box.

What about another option in the Virtual PO Box of “no Saturday delivery required/hold until Monday?” This might be a way to let the Postal Service test just how necessary customers find Saturday delivery.

This seems like a good idea, though I wonder if mail is redirected what the delay would be like.

i want to see my letters

This is a great idea! It is nice to see the postal service implementing technology to find different ways to remain viable.

Perfect for the virtual business! I have plans on starting an online only business and since I won't need a physical address to conduct my business, a virtual P.O. Box would be a perfect solution. How soon will this idea become a reality?

I love the idea of this but don't agree that the USPS should take a project like this on since they are already hemmoraging at the expense of the tax payers . . . leave this to private industries that have to show a profit to stay afloat.

I am waiting not so patiently for this to become reality. A Virtual P.O. Box is desperately needed by ANYONE who runs an email newsletter and doesn't have a business address separate from home address.

CAN-SPAM is a law requiring a physical address at the bottom of business emails, and ANY email newsletter. Violators can get hit with a hefty fine for non-compliance.

My only address for my home based business is... my home! Putting that address on the bottom of an email newsletter that random people that find me on the internet can sign up for... SCARY!

When can I have my virtual PO Box? The ability to rapidly shift physical locations will find a customer segment immediately. This was demonstrated so effectively by USPS after Hurricane Katrina -- a great USPS story you never hear about. GoPost is almost a virtual PO Box now. Combine this with my USPS email address and you will have great synergy in new IT enabled products. The USPS can make innovative use of IT to build an entire postal ecosystem with needed capabilities. From the business traveler, to the touring bicyclist crossing the country, or Appalachian Trail hiker, many will find this USPS product improves their lives. Implemented with the USNG geoaddresses and ZIPGrid, and anywhere can be your virtual POBox delivery point. There are details to be worked out, but the concept is right for today's IT and patron needs.

This sounds awesome!! I have moved a few times and more recently because of my safety. It would be nice to be somewhat off the grid except for to those who need to know!

Moving forward in time I can see a layer of official tools that the post office will be able to use to support our democracy. Virtual passports that can be shown with your smart phone. My IRS paperwork would now be accessible via where I stored them in my post office folders. This could become a store of your relationship with all government agencies. (Including state Government). I see this as one of the venues for voting in the future. see the following URL for securing identity. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/04/obama-online-security/

I'm surprised this is not already an option. Let's get this up and running. Fax machines have been obsolete since the scanner, pdf and the ability to attach files to email came along. Partnering with Google Drive and Dropbox would be the obvious choices. Shocked FedEx and UPS haven't already made this leap. Although UPS is closer. I'm all for it.

I wish they would offer a digital service where they scan my mail and send me a pdf right to my iphone.

I can also see big brother looking in from time to time to see where we live. Whether we like it or not. If you are looking to go off the grid, use a service NOT connected to our wonderful spying government.

I think all the advantages of the program are stellar, and I would benefit from many. I especially like the "vanity" address for businesses; not so much for vanity, but for anonymity. So many individuals operate successful, small businesses out of their homes these days, but do we really want our customers to know where we live?

Being able to use a virtual mail box to forward mails to a physical address is a very basic need. Almost everyone living in an apartment would eventually move. Meaning the physical address is only temporary. Same applies for small businesses, students, vacationers, ... It would be great to be able to use an address that does not have to change with the physical address.

I believe USPS can make this a very affordable service as compared to other companies that provide mail forwarding services. Other companies have to first get the mail to a central location and then forward it. This introduces additional cost that can be avoided by USPS as the mail forwarding can be done during mail sorting.

This would eventually allow sending mail using only Address ID, like in:

From Sender
AID - 123456

To Recipient
AID - 456743

This will guarantee permanent address for everybody. The ID can be tied with one current physical address on USPS side. Some companies, like banks for example, may still require physical address. For those, USPS can also provide a service that converts an Address ID to a physical address.

Adding other functionalities like, filtering and scanning mails, notifying recipient, … are also very convenient and can be added as premium services.

Great!!!It has pros and cons but the pros outweigh.

This would be perfect. For personal reasons, I have to live in a location 250 miles from where I do my primary business. This would solve that issue without exposing to potential clients that I am not immediately available.

This is a great idea! when the post office types the unique po box your real address pops up. The customer cant see but the PO person knows where its going. the sender will only see the po box but the post office knows the po box is actually your street address!

As far as people whining about lost jobs....look, jobs get lost and created all the time!! People are so dumb, you think when a job disappears ...a job is gone forever. It doesn't , it just pops up somewhere else. And what jobs are being lost by this??

You know if this goes through, the post offices will need more servers, more I.T. people, more programmers, app developers, graphic designers, and on and on...

in nature ...you adapt ...or die. Such is life! Instead of whining and wanting things the easy way, here's an idea: ADAPT---you loose you job, then learn another trade! one that's in demand...which anything tech is nowadays.

I came up with this idea recently and I'm glad to see you're already considering it. This seems like a win-win for the USPS and its customers. Customers could get most of the benefits of a physical PO box at a lower cost to the USPS, and therefore at a lower price, but it could still be a major revenue driver for the USPS. As another comment suggested, you could also derive revenue from a service that would translate virtual addresses to physical ones on a "need to know" basis. This kind of innovation is exactly what the USPS needs to get back to being one of the few government agencies that pays its own bills.

It's great to see the USPS thinking this way. Home delivery of mail is nice, but is terribly inefficient compared to other options. Other similar old-school things like newspapers are dying because the internet is a much more efficient way to disseminate information. They haven't been around forever (since ~1600), and probably would never have become popular had more efficient technology been available. The same applies to the post office. Just because it has existed for all our lifetimes doesn't make it right/best. The USPS must evolve or it will die. This proposal is a great way to take one small step toward a better future.

I Really, Really would love to have a Virtual post office box. I have considered a real post office box, but it would be inconvenient to have to pick up the mail in person when it can be delivered. In todays world of heightened privacy concerns, a virtual post office box could be a very popular product, and as long as the prices are kept in check, I would have one for sure.

Most DEFINITELY it would appeal to me. I was JUST looking for a service like this. Im a small business owner and I don't want to list my home address on my business materials and a PO Box that would reach me no matter what my address is would be great. I could login and change my forwarding address without having to go to the post office to do it, and then setup forwarding each time. PLEASE implement this. Thank you! I've wanted this for some years now so thank you.

This would be an awesome way for a business like mine, which doesn't have a physical location, to keep my personal address private, but also save me the time of having to go to the Post Office to retrieve my mail. I love this idea, and I hope that this gets implemented.

Emphatically yes. In my twenties, I typically move an average of once per year. It would be great to not have to deal with changing the address on all of my accounts at such frequency. I'd rather have a permanent mailing address that I can take with me wherever I go, whenever I go. Updating my accounts is a real drag.

Another emphatic yes. Would help small business, and would be willing to pay a fee which might keep the USPS solvent. Go add it already!

This we be great for associations, clubs, or other small organizations that have no physical office and change officers (and thus mailing addresses) every few years.

I believe you may have an edge on UPS and FEDX as I've heard they don't get signatures as needed and leave packages. LIKE live paychecks under a door mat…REALLY…wow...
I trust USPS to keep things safe while away and I like the PO Box to hid my actual address as a small business.

I went online looking to see if this was a possibility. I recently was laid off and I'm making business cards and wanted to have an address on them, but don't want to give out my home address so a virtual P.O. Box that just forwarded the mail to my home address would be ideal. Since the same amount of mail is still being delivered to a home address, but through the virtual box it wouldn't cost any jobs and could generate some revenue for the Post Office with little or no cost. I would be fine with paying $1 or $2 a month for this service, even as much as maybe $5 a month (though that is a little high IMHO). It would be way more convenient than having a P.O. box that I had to visit and check regularly.

It should also be good for small businesses where they want a professional looking address and not a home address.

I love the idea. I have had a very mobile life and don't see that changing anytime soon. I have been recently looking into virtual mailboxes and do plan to get one, as it solves many of the problems concerned with moving (which I am doing yet again). I think there is a wide audience with the idea, not just with frequent travelers and small businesses, but also with students, clubs/orginazations, families going on their yearly vacation, etc. When researching different companies, I also liked the idea that with the mail I did not want there was an option to recycle.

Forwarding of packages? But not UPS or Fedex, since post office boxes refuse to accept receipt of them. That leaves packages delivered by USPS. Do any companies still do this? I only get packages by USPS for the cheapest items or for Ebay. And Amazon rarely uses USPS.

Would there be privacy guarantees? I'm sure the government would love to data-mine all that scanned information. Oh, but the government would never do that.

And only the USPS would consider technical issues a "challenge". I have a folder with twelve different, tiny companies that already offer this service. I'm sure the "challenges" were stellar, seeing how most of it was probably done with off-the-shelve software.

Anyhow all my packages these days come from Amazon. They already offer rerouting of packages to lockers. If you have a UPS account you can also reroute packages.

Here's a radical thought. Consider catering to the customer.

This would be so useful. I move a lot (four times in three years) and there's inevitably someone who I forget to give my new address. This would be way easier!

Implementing an extensive online virtual PO box would be difficult and could have liability depending on the type of mail being scanned. If someone simply wants a virtual PO box to protect their home identy, their local postoffice could simply include that mail in the home delivery. It is a software routing or sorting at the local postoffice. This would have a minimal impact and could be implemented quickly. This method would eliminate fraudulent shipments as it is effectively renaming a verifyable physical address. If the price point was significantly less then a physical PO box many people would jump on this immediately. This will generate revenue for the postal service by using the same system with minimal change allows for the possibility of several virtual boxes going to the same address at a multiple cost.

It should have been done long ago when mobile devices started. I have kept my phone number for years everywhere I moved why not a virtual address also.

I don't want strangers to know where I live, but need to share my physical address.

I am looking for this service to use as a small business address for a virtual business. Please let me know if this service is offered at the USPS because it would be easier for me to trust than some random virtual PO Box company.

Good idea. Keeps the unknown companies popping up trying to "get" our mail... unsecure at minimum. I rather have the USPS continue to be the experts not some unknown wanna be.

Email lists now require you to include an address. As a small business owner working from my house, I don't want strangers to know where I live (it's a safety issue). A virtual box would allow me to use the PO box as my address and still receive my mail at home.

Absolutely! As someone who lives in an apartment and moves around a lot, I can't tell you how often I'm loosing important mail like driver's licenses, bank statements, voter registrations, car registrations, rental property bills, etc... because I forgot to update the mailing address. This feature would be amazing for people that rent (primarily lower income) because they could finally have a consistent mailing address of record and know that they will receive their proper mail.

For all those bringing up the issue of jobs, I can't figure out how there would be any impact? If anything, this would create more jobs as there will be support, programming and possibly even additional carriers required to facilitate such a service.

This is likely the best opportunity the USPS have for staying relevant and is most fitting with its role.

We live in a nomadic society.

There is universal support and demand. The notion is decades old. This article itself is years old.

What does it take to make a universally needed and desired offering available?

You propose a Virtual Post Box to link to a P.O. Box. Yet USPS and law enforcement have said that customers had to stop using P.O. Boxes for certain things, even those which were constitutionally-protected acts. Now you want to allow the use of P.O. Boxes as long as yo can (a) be the sole provider of those boxes and (b) control what goes into them.

I think not. USPS can't even perform its' primary mission without constantly going back to see more money for less efficiency and poorer performance. Why should it then seek to expand its' mission, when it hasn't even be able to perform the one it was found for?

Or so it appears to the average citizen. If the appearance isn't correct, then that indicates USPS has failed in its' ancillary mission, to inform, educate, and keep citizens apprised of what it actually does.

Consolidate, Restructure, Get back to the primary purpose.

Or go bankrupt and stop wasting customers' time and money.


I'd like this so I can have a business mailing address for my business that I operate out of my home. I'd prefer not to give my home mailing address during routine business operations so I can separate my business and personal mailing concerns.