The Problem of the Future Post Office

What would a modern Post Office look like?

A major question, with its own Times Topic (see links below), has arisen around the current state and future possibilities for the US Post Office. With several years of escalating deficits registered, the Post Office is close to defaulting on its federal backing. So what can be done? This is the first in a series of articles that will look at this issue from the perspective of design (process design, organization design, business design, environments design, and so on). This article aims to outline the major issues and the major questions, as well as some of the currently proposed solutions.  Upcoming blog posts will tackle some of these proposed solutions in more detail, and look for others not presented here.

So, what would a 21st century Post Office look like?

To answer that, the first question has to be: what does the current Post Office do (this is a first pass at this list)?

– Package and stamp mail:
With a scale and a computer, most users can calculate their own postage. Packaging isn’t as easy to come by, but that could be replicated by labels / stickers.

– Store mail:
The Post Office will hold on to mail that can’t be delivered / signed for.

– Deliver mail:
The Post Office has more than half a million employees delivering mail 6 days a week.

– Sell stamps and other postage:
This could move exclusively online and users could print their own.

– Post Office employees answer postal questions around delivery options:
This could also happen online.

– The Post Office serves as a town hall and meeting space and dispenses information:
Combine Post Offices with retail spaces or other flagging spaces to increase traffic to both.

The second question should be: what is the problem facing the current Post Office?

The massive budget shortfall seems to be the real problem. And the Post Office seems to think that with an uptick in the economy, mail will increase as well: “Global, package, priority mail and advertising mail segments of our business are showing growth,”  Dave Partenheimer, a Post Office spokesperson, wrote. But this ignores the rapidly increasing use of email and digital transmissions. So assuming that this problem won’t fix itself, what solutions could there be to this issue?

– Sell Post Office buildings:
The Post Office owns a good deal of real estate, but how much will this help in a down real estate market?

– They have proposed closing many rural branches to save money:
This would hurt the elderly who don’t drive and the rural who don’t have high speed internet, but delivery could potentially be measured and consolidated by zip code (*Frank Greene, Tellico Village TN)

– Move to kiosks in other spaces:
Even banks are getting smaller / fewer / closed, faced by the same digital ubiquity. Supermarkets and retail probably aren’t going anywhere, so partner with flagging institutions like this to drive up traffic.

– Move physical mail to a much more digital mode, including digital postage:
All delivery to the final destination or post office should be digital and rely on virtual mailboxes. Post Office would only print on demand, especially for junk mail. Become scan / print / email centers? Partner with Kinkos? Digital postage could be a code that’s written on envelopes, or printed by users. This may actually increase the value of collectible stamps, if there’s a market there.

– Disband and allow mail to go private, allowing Amazon or others to take over the postal functions and UPS and others to take over the delivery functions:
The German Post Office bought DHL. Is this a marketplace they want to be in? Could they merge the two companies and use existing processing centers?

– Sell retail goods:
Is this really a good bet in an increasingly online marketplace?

– Charge more for junk mail:
Frank Greene of Tellico Village TN proposes that there be only one rate for all mail. But would driving up costs on junk mail drive down revenues overall?

– Deliver only one day a week, on Saturdays:
May still need big processing centers even if they’re going to deliver the mail only once a week. Not sure how much is saved, except that many letter carries would lose jobs. Would bills become problematic if mail went to once a week?

– Become a marketing organization and partner with Direct Marketers:
Does the Post Office have data on customers they could sell / leverage?


Times Topic: Postal Service
In Rural America, Fears that Beloved Post Offices Will Close
Postal Union Turns to Wall Street for Advice
Deutsche Post Reinvents Services in a Digital World

Categories: Business Design

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