For decades, the Postal Service offered vending machine service to supplement its retail operations. Vending machines meet the needs of customers who want to purchase stamps without waiting in line. While the lack of stamp vending machines has resulted in customer frustration and a surprising number of newspaper articles, the problems are particularly acute in economically depressed and more urban areas. Although Automated Postal Centers (APCs) provide many services including the sale of stamps and directly applied postage for First-Class letters, APCs require credit cards, which people in economically depressed areas often do not have. In addition, some customers find APCs to be intimidating to use. Finally, APCs sell only booklets of stamps or individual stamps in denominations of $1 or more, yet many disadvantaged customers may want to buy just one First-Class Mail stamp.
So with an apparent need for simple vending machines, what should the Postal Service do? In the past, the Postal Service had problems with the legacy machines it owned. They were costly and difficult to maintain and operate. The answer may be to contract this activity out. Commercial vending machines, like those selling soda and chips, are generally not owned and operated by the organizations on whose property they are located. While Postal Service unions and management associations may have concerns, private operators might be very interested in acquiring stamp vending machine contracts for a percentage of gross sales (or similar) while taking sole responsibility for vending machine maintenance and support. In addition to the convenience vending machines would offer, they might also help window clerks operate more efficiently. Diverting low-value stamp sales from windows would increase revenue per labor hour and allow the Postal Service window clerks to focus on more important functions. With shorter lines and happier customers, the work environment of a window clerk would likely improve. This idea could be a win-win for all concerned. This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).