The Future of the United States Postal Service: An Update

Meet the writer: Karen Pieper

Hi, I'm Karen! I've been in the industry for 18 years and can't wait to share my perspective on all things direct mail. I'm currently the Digital Marketing Manager at Letter Jacket Envelopes and deal with tasks from managing the website, facilitating conversations with customers, and much more!

What is the future of the post office? Unfortunately, the term Post Office or US Post Office has come to be synonymous with inefficiency, frustration and, lately, in the hair-trigger times we live in, even uncontrollable rage, as in “going postal.” Why has this happened? How did we get to this point?  Most importantly, where do we go from here?

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has long been associated with bureaucratic inefficiency and has been portrayed in popular culture by such bumbling characters as Newman on Seinfeld or Cliff Clavin on Cheers. But USPS may not be around much longer in its current incarnation for Americans to complain about. And the American public will most likely discover we didn’t know what we had until it was gone. Think about what it would be like if you had to travel to mail a package, pay your bills or pick up your mail.

The USPS in its current form is unsustainable.  It is a supposedly self-supporting entity that is no longer able to support itself and is virtually bankrupt, having lost $45 billion since 2007. As recently as 2006 it had turned a small profit but since that time has been hemorrhaging money and has defaulted on its obligations three different times. The volume of traditional first-class mail has dropped precipitously from 95.9 billion pieces in 2007 to 61.2 billion pieces in 2016.

Overall, traditional mail delivery has dropped significantly, but there’s a much brighter outlook concerning the delivery of packages which has increased due to the tremendous growth of e-commerce sites and the growing popularity of shopping online. Total number of packages shipped in 2008 numbered 3.3 billion. In 2016 that number had climbed to 5.2 billion packages.

Will the post office be in business next year?

The United States Post Office is in business. First class mail traffic has dropped in the past decade (from 95.9 billion pieces in 2007 to 61.2 billion in 2016), but package traffic has significantly increased. USPS introduces and implements tracking, apps, and other technologies to improve service. They still deliver over 45% of mail worldwide.

The United States Postal Service is moving forward with the times. They introduced My USPS in 2015 which allows customers to track incoming mail and packages. By the end of 2016 approximately 5.7 million customers had signed up for the service and are now able to check the status of their mail by computer or smartphone, anytime, anywhere. Even more exciting innovations were recently unveiled at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Another new app currently being developed will replace a customer having to stand in line. Using this app, customers will be able to scan a Priority Mail box, pay for it with a thumb print and send a shipping label to the nearest printer. Another innovation is a talking drop-off box that can answer simple questions such as “when is the next pickup?” and can answer other questions about postage requirements or give directions to the nearest Post Office.

Another just-around-the-corner innovation that will be coming soon is a shipping box that will let the sender know when it has been received and opened. This will be a game-changer for Christmas presents, birthday presents and important business packages. The box will have a very small, battery operated 3G wireless chip built into the casing of the box itself. It will send a one-time only “opened” signal that is triggered when the seal of the box is broken. So, you’ll never have to wonder again whether or not someone has received their package.

Other than My USPS, which is already in use, these are all conceptual ideas at this point in time but give an idea of the general direction the United States Postal Service will be taking in the near future. It has also been suggested that the USPS could serve as a bank as well, handling simple monetary transactions and offering small loans. Since the USPS is currently the largest national retailer in the US, larger than Walmart, Starbucks and McDonald’s combined, it would make sense to take advantage of that existing infrastructure.

The United States Postal Service currently delivers 47% of mail worldwide and is the only entity capable of delivering to every postal address in the United States, both residential and business. It maintains a fleet of 227,000 delivery vehicles which is one of the largest delivery fleets in the world. The USPS also collaborates with other mail delivery companies such as FedEx and UPS.  These companies pay the USPS to use its existing infrastructure and network to deliver packages both domestically and worldwide.

Mail will always be one of the most personal and timeless ways to communicate. Letters, notes and bills can all be saved for posterity, whether for sentimental or organizational purposes. An email will never be able to replace the personal nature of mail. The Post Office is the backbone of a $1.4 trillion mailing industry that provides a very significant underlying structure for our great country. The future of the USPS is literally in our hands. Exciting new innovations are just around the corner. Letter Jacket is an important part of this vital industry. When you choose to mail an advertisement, or an invitation, or a letter, regardless of the type of envelope you need, make sure to take advantage of Letter Jacket’s high-quality envelopes, available in a multitude of sizes, shapes and colors.

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