November 18, 2013 (Report Number RARC-WP-14-001)

So what does the generation born and raised in the age of the Internet think of something like regular mail? Do so-called Digital Natives, who have little experience with life pre-World Wide Web, have any interest in it? Did they ever? The questions raise critical implications for the future of the U.S. Postal Service, as mail volume has plummeted with the rise of digital communications and the postal reform debate continues.

Surprisingly, the answer is yes. The Postal Service Office of Inspector General commissioned focus groups composed of Digital Natives to understand their current uses and perceptions of physical mail. Digital Natives who participated reported feeling an emotional attachment to physical mail that they don’t feel with lightning-speed email and texts, and said that they would be unhappy for a variety of reasons if the Postal Service were ever to disappear. True, Digital Natives are most interested in packages and parcels – the result of a preference for shopping online – and they like mailpieces that integrate some kind of digital technology (augmented reality is a favorite). But these penchants lead Digital Natives to check their physical mail daily, and in the process they look at mail they may otherwise ignore, including coupons and catalogs.

With Digital Natives now outnumbering Baby Boomers and their economic power growing, their wants and needs will increasingly demand attention from not just the Postal Service but the mailing/shipping industry at large. This paper details and examines those wants and needs – and how the Postal Service could best meet them now and in the future, when Digital Natives will soon dominate the market.

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