on Apr 11th, 2011 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 31 comments
[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"]L[/dropcap]ast year Americans spent $155.2 billion in online shopping. This year they are projected to spend more than $190 billion. The delivery of these parcels and packages represent a large revenue opportunity for the U.S. Postal Service, especially if they can improve delivery times, package tracking and increase processing through automation and new technologies. One solution may be the use of radio frequency identification (RFID). Currently, the Postal Service uses barcode systems to manually track and scan packages. A RFID tracking system uses radio waves to transmit and track identifiable information about an object, which has a unique tag embedded with a microchip and an antenna. The chip could store product or shipment information, such as the sender’s and receiver’s addresses, package contents, or other relevant information.The technology would allow for greater automation of parcels/packages, reducing delivery time and allowing mailers to track and even recall/reroute packages with greater ease. Instead of relying on human scanning – as the current barcode system does – RFID would use electronic readers to capture data on tags and transmit it directly to a computer system. The RFID system would require significant outlay for a new infrastructure as well as the cost of the tags themselves. The investment ultimately could result in lower costs and improved mail delivery times, making the Postal Service the premier delivery service. This blog is hosted by the Office of Audit, Delivery Directorate.
OIG Blog Tags: 


Add new comment

The Postal Service has fallen way behind package shipping competitors. A reliable and detailed tracking system is long overdue and would attract a whole new segment of customers.


What segment of customers would you envision this being able to attract? Do you think that this could also bring back previous customers?

We must first establish whether RFID will indeed reduce total operating costs. There is no question that it alleviates manual barcode scanning, but we may need to use relatively expensive active tagging technology to scan complete unit loads (e.g., containers).

Moreover, mailers tend to seek reliability of the distribution service over the full visibility of the supply chain. Thus, visibility is mainly useful to USPS provided it learns how to extract value from that information (e.g., what is the value proposition of the IMB?)

Thus, rather than charging a premium to RF-tag packages, one should think hard about finding VALUE TO THE INFORMATION and utilize that value for competitive advantages.


You are correct that the cost of a system would have to be weighed against the potential savings.

If USPS was able to take the visibility data to eliminate identified service deficiencies would that make the data valuable?

If this technology speeds processing of parcels allowing them to move from acceptance to delivery in a much shorter time, do you feel that would enhance the mailers experience?

I have always wondered whether regular sampling would not be enough and adequate for service improvement. Do we need to tag every mail piece and every package to improve service? I am not sure...

RFID would be a great idea (as long as it is not used for tracking carriers instead). We have the best prices for most of the package business, but the tracking is the one area we are lacking. If we can improve our tracking service, there is no doubt we can be the leader in the parcel business.

Thanks for the input Lenny.

Wal Mart has been using this tech for some time. I've heard some amazing stories. They can notify a truck that they unloaded someting at the wrong stop, and to go back. Or, there there was a container that was supposed to be delivered at the last stop. The best part is, the technology is in the roof of the truck. You don't have to scan anything. Just load, drive and deliver
This indeed is a huge opportunity. We could be the 1st with top shelf system. Or another chance to frustrate our customers with a low-bid system that has more compromises than advantages.


I am happy to hear that you are familiar with real world application of the technology and it seems you too feel this could be a great step forward for the Postal Service if it comes to be.


Just for once, could this organization learn to walk before it tries to run and stumbles all over itself? I mean, I understand that you move up at HQ by championing big, new, sexy initiatives that promise the sun and the moon, but, hey, for a change of pace, how abouts we roll up our sleeves and do the dirty work necessary to properly implement a few things already in the pipeline.

For instance, the PRC just ruled us non-compliant on our legally required service standards tracking. IMB was supposed to provide for (virtually) end to end tracking of every piece in the system, with an information rich experience for mailers, accurate tansit time information, and concrete feedback for improving our mail processing operations.

We cannot even get the IMB system off the ground, much less implemented. How about we finish this one off as we are legally required to do, before we run off half-cocked on some new scheme? If the problem is mailer acceptane than incent or require participation.

The cynic in me, however, figures that the real problem is internal foot-dragging on the operational side, from high level responsible Managers in Mail Processing who REALLY, REALLY, don't want their internal foibles to be quite so trackable...


I am sorry to hear your disappointment in the IMB implementation. I can assure you that this topic is in no way associated with that initiative. Would it change your opinion of this idea if you knew the technology is already successfully in use in several foreign Posts (albeit not to the extent being researched here)?

No. It would not. I can't see how a foreign Post Office comparison can be accurately scaled up to the USPS to produce any kind of reliable ROI data. Not to mention that USPS ROI estimates are routinely overstated by 50 to 75 percent of actual savings achievable in the real world. If you doubt me, then I would simply refer you to your own recent studies of the FSS implementation.

We already have acceptance, in process APPS, arrival, out for delivery (automated) and attempted/delivered scans. The only thing we are lacking when compared to UPS is the container movement tracking, which I should think can be accomplished with minimal cost.

At a time where we are actively engaged in elimnating our own Post Office infrastructure (the only thing that actually sets us apart from UPS, I might add) due to supposed cost, we can clearly ill afford this kind of speculative venture.

I defend my original premise that what the USPS needs to do is not chase some new pie-in-the-sky technology, but, buckle down, and do the nitty-gritty things in the field necessary to get the currently deployed systems to pay the dividends that were expected of them at the time that THEY were financed.

Lets ensure that our APPS machines are getting all the process scans they can. Lets add a simple container scanning system that links parcels to the container at dispatch from the equipment. Lets manage and support our delivery operations so that they can achieve the excellence in scanning that they're capable of. Lets ensure that our customers are compliant with their symbology, placement, and print quality of their barcodes (they're far from perfect, belive me).

If we are able to do all that, and do it accurately and consistently, then tell me, what would our package competitors have that we wouldn't?

This concept would provide the end to end network visibility that you point out our competitors have that we do not. After that you are correct in stating we need to make the other systems do what they were intended to do.

Thanks for the further insight into your feelings. Your passion for ther success of the service shows in your responses and that makes your feedback all the more valuable.

USPS package tracking has significantly improved over the last 24 months, and is now comparable to UPS, FedEx and other commercial carriers. RFID tracking may be more suitable to container level tracking, such as pallets and OTR containers. I understand that the Postal Service is closely looking at real time delivery tracking, which will be the last piece in the puzzle.

It sounds OK in theory, but if it is implemented like everything else it will become a joke.

How will it handle items that need signatures, etc? What if the "chip" is dead? We have a hard time with a lot of the barcodes from eBay sellers and the like right now. They will put the code on and go around a corner or in a crease with it.

What makes you think they won't somehow put the chip where it won't read? DOUG

Rural Carrier,

Items that require a signature will still need either a hard copy notice to sign, or maybe we can upgrade scanners to allow for them to capture a signature on thier screen much like the credit card readers in a store.

The RFID tag would not "die" as it has no power source, and the placement on or in a box would not prevent it from being "read" by the RFID system.

Does knowing this make you more receptive to the idea?

Sound like another con job from what ever company is trying to sell this to the PO.Every thing sounds great and looks good on paper but them you have to take it out to the street.Every Letter Carrier knows what a miserable failure DPS is.


At this time no company is trying to sell anything. This is purely a research topic that we are looking to get stakeholder feedback on. As for the anticipated effect on the work of the carrier craft, the way this in envisioned being implemented would result in no change to the work methods you are currently performing.

Thanks for checking this blog out.

Well................................ No
Let's simply look at the purpose RFID's serve.

* An RFID tag is a microchip combined with an antenna in a compact package; the packaging is structured to allow the RFID tag to be attached to an object to be tracked. "RFID" stands for Radio Frequency Identification.

* An RFID transponder is a special kind of radio transmitter and reciever. It is activated when it receives a signal of a specific kind. RFID transponders are present in smart cards or RFID tags.

I've posted this before. What classes of product are you attempting to track? There may be some biometric material on the shelves of the
NSA that would serve your needs, however, it's not going to be free.... Which is what the USPS model depends in their new business
model. Free temporary labor.

It begins at the ole' blue drop box. It ends with the destination point. "Everything else is on the Post Office". That footprint is beyond the scalability of the RFID architecture. RFID's are intended for campus environments.

It's not about what service you provide, it's about how you provide a service. What exactly is "stakeholder feedback"? Spoken like a true bureaucrat engaged in a flurry of boiler plate and administrative assistants walking in circles looking for a solution to the collapse
in mail volumes.

You'll have to figure out a way to transform the mail from a tangible
object to some type of intangible object, then back again.

I want to clarify the last post. Inexpensive RFID's are intended for
campus environments...
RFID's are regulary used in tolling, logistical applications, and
many other inventory applications in supply chain systems, as the price for tags have come down.
However, until ink can be tagged electronically "biometric", to
envisage billion's of individual items to be tag integrated, may
appear unlikely.


Thanks for your clarification. Keep in mind that the idea being discussed has to do with tagging parcels, not letter and flat sized mail.


surely Express as well???? Or is it already hyopthetically RFI tagged?

Yes, Express and possibly special services mailings such as Certified, Insured, etc.


The implementation of RFID is as close to a no-brainer as one could get.

Because RFID is multi-directional, it would definitely allow for better visibility of packages even through processing and consolidation centers, it would effectively allow "delivery confirmation" to become a true tracking solution, installing RFID readers at certain points at facilities which sort packages would allow for those packages to receive an almost guaranteed "scan", and wouldn't even require the item to be face up.

An example would be to install readers at the entry of a facility, in theory, the packages could actually be scanned as "Arrived at Processing Facility, (City), (Sta) (Zip)" by larger readers, able to read the every tag on a truck upon entering through the gate, another "scan" "Sorted through Processing Facility, (City), (Sta) Zip - time/date" upon being loaded on a belt for sorting, and maybe even another indicating it's departure from the facility.

In addition to the advantages felt on the local postal unit level, it would allow carriers to scan items as delivered, since it would eliminate the requirement for a barcode, and therefore eliminate the possibility of a damaged or unreadable code. A small time savings could be felt through RFID too, since it wouldn't require carriers to scan each DC item at the delivery point, just wave the "scanner" over the item, and delivery time and date is recorded.

Since RFID is becoming so common, while the implementation / roll out could be costly, there is something to be said in the way of maybe finding a cost savings too, the USPS wouldn't have to acquire custom made handhelds for couriers to use, as plenty of companies (Motorola's Enterprise Mobility Division, formerly Symbol and UniTech, among many others) make touchscreen, RFID and 1D/2D barcode handhelds, some even with wireless networking, all of which would likely come at a reduced cost, and allow for near instant transmission of delivery/signature information back the USPS systems, giving a competitive edge back to the USPS, as FedEx and UPS offer that already.

It's not that hard to see that RFID could totally change the public image of the USPS, allowing for more visibility and insight into where packages are within the system, allowing for accurate estimations of delivery, and allowing for troubleshooting when packages do go missing, as there is more information available, and the information would be more detailed. The USPS should very seriously consider RFID, and not be put off by the initial cost of investment, as it has a great potential to have very quick ROI, and offer additional revenue not previously available prior to deployment.


You really seem to grasp the concept and see many of the opportunities that RFID holds.

Thank you so much for you input.

RFID is a great idea but I'm sure some invasion of privacy will accur because of it.


Would you please give me some detail as to what type of privacy invasion you fear would occur?


I disagree with the concept of deployment. And not
because it's not feasible.
See "Penny for your thoughts" discussion posts 10/05/09 & 10/8/09.
Furthermore, it's not that there are not opportunities (see the safety OX Plant program using RFID).
RFID is not going to solve the USPS legacy costs
and extraordinary collapse in volumes. These, combined with the challenges of new technology
development and energy burdens may very well be insurmountable obstacles.
By far the most economically effective and least environmentally disruptive way to extract wood products from the forest is with a chain saw & draft horses. But, when you employ 500 units on any
given project to increase production, all bets are off. Just like the USPS. Employ 750,000 units to execute several billion transactions, the program's
revenue is sustainable. Employ 350,000 units to execute a billion transactions, the program's revenue is unsustainable. Reason, the investment of resources and time no longer generates an adequate "ROI". In other words, it becomes a subsidy. And, that girls and boys is what is not competively working in our global marketplace.


Thanks for your input. ROI is definitly one of the factors that would have to be considered if RFID were to come to the Postal Service.


ROI evidence again!!! and again and again....

According to my 4th grade arithmetic (I went to catholic grammar school), even with a liberal mean average the entire US population could hypothetically have handheld FCM, bill paying/receiving, be standard mail ready, and or, be e-voting accessible by 2016. A mere 12 fiscal quarters from 10/31/12. Talk about sequestration, "Whew"...

Here's the ROI story date in cut/paste form. The previous URL is dynamic (it changes w/date & does not clearly tell the simple story of 8.3 million or roughly or alot of US citizens going e-everything every quarter....

Apple Sold 8.3 Million IPhones Last Quarter, Filing Shows

Ian KingAug 10, 2012 6:27 pm ET

(Updates with tablet sales in sixth paragraph.)

Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc., the world’s most valuable company, sold 8.34 million iPhones in the U.S. in its most recent quarter, fewer than the previous two periods, according to a court filing in its trial against Samsung Electronics Co.

U.S. sales accounted for 32 percent of the 26 million smartphones it sold worldwide in the quarter ended June 30, according to an exhibit in a court filing yesterday in federal court in San Jose, California. Apple, which is suing Samsung for patent infringement, hadn’t previously given a geographic breakdown of the sales of its biggest product by country.

The fiscal third-quarter total for the U.S. compares with 10.7 million iPhones sold in the preceding three months and the record 15 million sold in the last three months of 2011, the filing showed. The sequential decline is in line with a slowdown seen before in iPhone sales ahead of the release of a new model.

Apple has sold 86 million iPhones in the U.S. since the product debuted in 2007. The filing showed Samsung sold 21.3 million smartphones from mid-2010 to mid-2012.

Last month the Cupertino, California-based company reported total quarterly sales for the product that missed analysts’ predictions, causing its revenue and profit to fall short of estimates for only the second time since 2003.

Apple sold 5.7 million iPads in its home market in the latest quarter, 34 percent of the total of 17 million of the tablet devices it sold worldwide, the court filing also showed.