April 24, 2017 (RARC-WP-17-007)
- The OIG identifies eight innovation opportunities for the parcel box, providing use cases and an explanation of how the Postal Service has used the innovation in the past.
- The U.S. Postal Service could provide incentives to encourage shippers to try parcel innovations. These incentives could also connect with and promote using direct mail to reach customers.
- Companies selling goods through digital marketplaces could make a positive brand impression with customers by decorating or enhancing the shipping box.
Companies selling goods online — shippers — are small fish in an ever-growing sea of digital marketplaces and endless options. A small company selling ceramic bowls competes with tens of thousands of sellers online, rather than the 10 competitors they’d find in a traditional store. Digital marketplaces, such as Amazon, Etsy, and eBay, give consumers instant access to a wider array of products than can be found in even the largest shopping malls, but this creates a challenge for shippers. They need to differentiate themselves from the competition and earn repeat customers.
A shipper’s product shows up alongside hundreds or thousands of competing products. Even when a shopper orders the product, parcels from a digital marketplace are often packed along with other, unrelated items in a box labeled with the marketplace’s logo, rather than the shipper’s. One way shippers can better establish themselves and foster direct customer engagement is by differentiating themselves through innovative parcel packaging.
The OIG explored ways that the Postal Service, as a parcel carrier and innovator, could help companies differentiate themselves by promoting parcel enhancements and making them more accessible to shippers both small and large.
Enhancements to the outside of the box can transform the parcel from a simple receptacle into an engaging customer experience. Creative and distinctive box designs make a package stand out from all the rest, presenting a powerful branding opportunity for shippers. Shippers can use integrated technologies that the Postal Service already encourages in advertising mail — including augmented reality, quick response (QR) codes, and near field communications — to connect parcel recipients with digital content via their mobile phones.
Also, sensors on the outside of the parcel can track its condition and provide delivery information to the recipient, such as whether the package was opened or damaged in transit. Shippers can even include “box buttons” that integrate special effects directly into the box itself, such as lights, sounds, or video display. These innovations foster brand memorability for a shipper, which could lead to customers returning to the product or brand when they are looking to buy more.
Inside the box, there are also other opportunities to continue customer engagement. For instance, incorporating prepaid mailings inside of parcels could be a novel way for shippers to harness First Class mail as a social marketing tool, and could have particularly useful applications for parcels sent through gift registries.
Thinking outside (and inside) the box by fostering parcel innovations could help both the Postal Service and shippers establish a powerful connection with ecommerce consumers.