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.

Comments (220)

  • anon

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

    Jan 20, 2014
  • anon

    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.

    Jan 20, 2014
  • anon

    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?

    Jan 09, 2014
  • anon

    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.

    Dec 20, 2013
  • anon

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

    Dec 18, 2013
  • anon

    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.

    Dec 16, 2013
  • anon

    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/

    Dec 09, 2013
  • anon

    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!

    Dec 09, 2013
  • anon

    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.

    Nov 29, 2013
  • anon

    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!

    Oct 05, 2013
  • anon

    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.

    Sep 25, 2013
  • anon

    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?

    Sep 12, 2013
  • anon

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

    Apr 25, 2013
  • anon

    <p>i want to see my letters</p>

    Apr 25, 2013
  • anon

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

    Apr 25, 2013
  • anon

    <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p>

    Apr 23, 2013
  • anon

    <p>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.</p>

    Apr 22, 2013
  • anon

    <p>Just another way to get rid of jobs.</p>

    Apr 22, 2013
  • anon

    <p>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!</p>

    Apr 22, 2013
  • anon

    <p><span>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.</span></p>

    May 14, 2013

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