April 17, 2013 (Report Number MS-WP-13-002)

Communication is rapidly changing. Mail and telephone calls are at one end of a continuum that now includes email, instant messaging, tweets, texts, and wall posts. People communicate anywhere and everywhere. They make decisions, coordinate activities, and do business at home, at work, at airports, and in coffee shops.

Digital addresses, such as phone numbers and email addresses, are also portable, but the physical address is still largely fixed to a specific location that is not always the most convenient or cost effective. Even the venerable Post Office Box (PO Box), noted for its customer convenience, is not always ideal in this new age of communications. The metal PO Box at the Post Office is sometimes too small to accommodate packages and, at other times, sits empty. In this environment, the U.S. Postal Service has an opportunity to meet changing customer preferences by providing additional functionality and a physical dimension to email communications and smart devices, while bringing more portability and flexibility to the physical address.

This paper suggests a concept called the Virtual PO Box, which would provide users with an address that could be redirected anywhere they choose. After appropriate identity checks, users could sign up for a Virtual PO Box address. Customers could then log into their usps.com account to link this address with any physical address: a home or business address, a nearby Post Office, a physical PO Box locker, or even a gopost® parcel locker.

The paper identifies both potential features and challenges associated with a Virtual PO Box service. Virtual PO Boxes would create opportunities for customers and businesses to manage the physical delivery of mail and parcels in the same way they manage digital communications. They would be accessible online and via smart devices, giving users additional control over their mail. The service would be a powerful tool to manage the delivery of goods and information. The Virtual PO Box could offer many features and options that customers could combine to suit their needs. Future enhancements could be developed, such as scanning technologies to convert physical documents to digital, known as hybrid mail, or digital documents to physical, called reverse hybrid mail, and personal message integration and data storage.

The Postal Service could partner with companies currently providing similar services to leverage their expertise while tapping its own well-established brand and trustworthiness. The Postal Service is also well positioned to provide a Virtual PO Box service because it has sole access to PO Boxes and mailboxes and maintains the address management and change of address systems for the U.S. Because most of the features are extensions of the existing PO Box product and could be considered ancillary to a current postal product, the basic service may require no change to existing law. Is a Virtual PO Box a viable option for the Postal Service? Share your thoughts on our blog.

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