And To Think, You Rely on THEM to Deliver Your Mail?


It’s no secret by now that Postmaster General John Potter told Congress that in order for the USPS to survive, it needs to switch to a five-day-a-week delivery schedule.  

Does anyone else think this is a disaster waiting to happen? And does anyone out there actually believe that five days will be enough for this bloated bureaucracy to survive? What’s next, mail one day a week? Mail on alternate Tuesdays? Leap year mail, anyone?

C’mon USPS, what kind of joke are you perpetuating on our industry? We’ve already had to endure ridiculous rate increases way too often.  

I wonder if it even gets the fact that it’s helped fuel the growth of the Internet, search, e-mail, etc., as it’s forced catalogers to use other channels to compensate for their higher mail costs per acquisition? Or how many of you have been forced to cut vital circulation? Every penny more in postage you have to pay affects your break-even point by roughly 2 cents. 

Profitable lists become marginal; marginal lists become, well, y’know. What other industry’s costs go up 20 percent-plus at a time? How many billions of dollars of revenue did that drive out of the channel?

Does the USPS realize it’s driven direct marketers out of business?  

Did it ever do any math on how many pure-play e-marketers stayed pure-play because of its idiocy? How many billions of dollars never even entered the mail channel because of that?

And then there are the people — many of them pure-play Internet marketers — who think the mail channel itself is dead. I’ve been doing some market research lately and you’d be surprised with some of my findings. (If you have a LinkedIn account, click here and here for answers to my research questions.)

It seems that back in the day, pure-play brand marketers used to look down on catalogers as direct mail people, their redheaded stepchild (apologies to any redheaded stepchildren out there). Now in a stunning turnaround of events, pure-play Internet marketers see us in the same manner, like we’re dinosaurs andtheir redheaded stepchildren.

All of this doesn’t bode well for the future of our industry. And don’t even get me started on the subject of “do-not-mail” legislation.  

Well, that’s enough rant for one day. I have to send a letter to a friend and just bought a stamp for $5.50 (laugh now, but soon you’ll be paying that to send out your utility payment).

Frankly, I don’t have the answer to this problem. Maybe some of you out there do. Post your comments below, and let’s get a discussion going on this.

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21 Responses

  1. The problem with reducing the mail delivery days is that it’s just putting a band-aid on a open wound. The USPS needs stitches. The fact is they just can’t do business with the model they have now. Between paying for pensions and basic mishandling of assets, USPS is bleeding money. Cutting the mail delivery days and increasing rates, will not make the USPS profitable or even break even. They need a more aggressive strategy. Take a look at their business structure and figure out what is wrong. Don’t bail them out – encourage good business sense. USPS needs to stop being political and start being business savvy.
    @balemar

  2. The postal service needs to lower rates to encourage use of the systems – dont they know the internet is here and peole will just email or use a web site instead of sending a mail piece. Rasing rates just discourages people from using the system. Alternatives are all around us and if they keep rasing rates they will slowly go away.

  3. I agree whole-heartedly. The USPS is single-handedly bringing an industry to its knees. I say privatize now!

  4. I agree that the USPS needs to revamp the way it does things, but if it can reduce our costs by going down to 5 days a week, then I am fine with that.

    As for direct marketers, sorry but that is fine by me if they are put out of business. Maybe they could learn to earn an honest living instead of annoying me and all of the others that can’t stand them.

    Oh wait, there is a law against them! And talking about going GREEN. . . if direct marketing were abolished, how many trees would we save? How much would our carbon footprint be reduced? Looks like a win-win to me.

    • Thank you Mel for your comment. I’m not sure what law you are talking about. Maybe you refer to CAN-SPAM (that’s for email) or the Telemarketing/Do Not Call rule. To my knowledge there is no law against direct mail. In fact, and maybe to your amazement, less direct mail, or a USPS 5 day work week would not reduce any costs as you state. Costs would actually go up, not down.

      Direct mail powers the US Postal service. Without it, the next time you mail a letter, utility payment, or Xmas present to your nephew Billy, you would need to take out a small loan.

      OK, I exaggerate, to illustrate my point, but the truth is many direct marketers look to deliver offers that are relevant to the people receiving them.

      If you want to learn more about the actual impact direct mail has on our economy and our society, I suggest you take 2 minutes and read the Facts About Direct Mail section on the Direct Marketing Association’s Catalog Preference website . You may be very shocked to learn how wrong you are!

      The honest truth is, we DON’T want to mail you anything if you are not going to buy from us. It wastes our money, our time, and it just makes you mad enough to write comments like this.

      You should also know that many direct mail companies are more green than you think. They use recycled paper and soy based inks. They buy their paper from paper mills with a commitment to forestry replantation.

      More and more, mailers and catalog companies are doing what they can to go green. But is this enough? In a word, NO! We’re getting there though.

      Here are some suggestions for you:

      1. Recycle any direct mail you are not interested in.

      2. Contact catalog companies who send you their catalogs and ask to be removed from their future mailings.

      3. DON’T buy anything from a catalog, otherwise (and here is the relevancy issue), you will be tagged as a “mail order buyer” and you will receive other catalogs of products which have an affinity to your last mail order purchase. In fact, don’t buy anything mail order, or respond online to any offer!

      4. Opt out of receiving business mail using Catalog Choice. http://www.catalogchoice.org/

      5. Use the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service to manage or stop getting direct mail offers: https://www.dmachoice.org/

      We’re happy not to mail offers to you if you don’t want them (it saves us a bunch of money). Just let us know as described above and we won’t send you any more mail.

      Oh and one more thing, and I apologize in advance if this sounds a bit snarky, but the less postal mail out there, the more emails and spam you’ll get clogging your in box, and some more telemarketing calls as well.

      Hope this helps,
      Jim

  5. Hi Mel -

    As a veteran catalog marketer, I ask you to take a step back and consider the total “carbon footprint” of the entire retail industry.

    Think catalogers waste more paper than, say, GAP corporation and their window signs + POS receipts + coupons + floor signage? Think again.

    Think shipping merchandise from a central distribution center via UPS or FedEx to your home leaves a larger footprint than trucking from several DCs to 400 stores, and then back again when that merchandise doesn’t sell? Think again.

    The catalog industry is no more environmentally damaging than the rest of the retail industry. It just so happens that a handful of vocal activists have taken aim at our channel, and demonized the lot of us.

    I call foul.

  6. Actually, a 5-day delivery week may be a blessing in disguise. All sorts of costs will go down for the post office. Carriers work one fewer days, sorters too. Most businesses don’t need mail delivered on a Saturday and delivery five days a week to residences is not a sacrifice.

    If a 5-day delivery week saves the post office money, costs to customers – read DM-ers – stays the same or – we can only hope – goes down. And that would be a good thing.

    But then again, what makes e-mail marketing so darn wonderful? E-mail is even easier to through away than direct mail – and throw it I do. First my web host collects spam, them I gather up more in two layers of spam traps on my computer. You have to be crafty to get to me and then Blam! I blow everything that’s left that doesn’t pertain to my business away by highlighting and clicking.

    Sure e-mail is cheap – but it still doesn’t beat mail for overal effectiveness. Something to think about when you think direct mail is dead.

  7. What about the mail that would normally be delivered on Saturday? It will still need to be sorted and delivered, I assume Monday. This could cause a log jam in the mail service, slowing it down and possibly encouraging less mail usage by consumers and business alike. That could offset the savings and force the post office right back in the same boat. Just a thought I had whilst reading your informative blog. Good writing and the responses were all interesting, too. Thanks.

  8. Frankly, I think the entire system is badly in need of an overhaul. This service has been running in the red for decades, rates increase regularly and the service gets progressively worse despite it. It is an inefficient, bureaucratic dinosaur that can’t seem to get out of its own way. It is its own failings that have lost it business to the likes if UPS and FedEx.

    I think its time to privatize this sorry puppy and get someone in there who knows how to do it.

    • USPS has been operating at a profit for years. It is only since fy 2007 that it has lost money. Part of the problem is Congress’ requirement that it pre-fund retirement costs at a much higher rate than other businesses. This alone is 2 bil. annually. USPS projects a loss of about 6 bil. this year, and minus the 2 this year and last, it would be in a much better position. Also, it has cut nearly 200,000 jobs, and is closing plants, consolidating operations, and adding technology to reduce costs. Want privatization? Ask any Canadian about that. They will tell you that private industry has slowed their mail and raised costs. Plus, Canada Post has had to rehire postal workers to work with the private postal workers to try to regain some semblance of efficiency.

      • Thanks for the comment Dan. Can you put some sources around your facts please?

        Regards,
        Jim

  9. The correct answer is: the need for overhaul.

    For anyone that has had to deal with the post office for any length of time understands, there is a huge amount of bureaucracy, redundancy, and people with poor work ethics that can’t get fired because of an over protective union. i.e. it’s nearly impossible to get fired for not doing your job. These problem people bread other problem people. And this is the result.

    It’s just like any quasi government operation, it’s messed up internally. A 5 day delivery will not save the USPS, as others have said.

    I will say however that the USPS has been friendly to small and midsized companies with their Priority Mail and click and ship programs. They do come up with some good things, but it’s very frustrated that their good ideas get messed up by the internal bureaucracy.

    I hesitate for full privatization because of the thought that some areas may get delivery cut because it would not be profitable to service remote areas. But I’m sure a solution could be found for that.

    As for the environmentalist type comments, I’ve learned to ignore their comments because they are ignorant on the subject in general. As pointed out more delicately than me in another post.

    As for direct mail being dead. Not in my lifetime. email is not reliable in delivery, it’s not as personal as a letter, and there’s too much of it (spam). There is no way to stand out.

    If you’re not getting better results using direct mail compared to email, you’re likely doing something wrong. Assuming you have a viable product or service.

    JDS

  10. Show me one instance other than the military where the government can do a better job than private industry, and I’ll show you an aberration in the space-time continuum. UPS and FedEx do a much better job of delivering parcels that the USPS. No small wonder…the private companies can promote based on merit and charge what – and only what – the market will bear. We’d all be better off killing off the post office and allowing FedEx and UPS to compete for letter delivery. While the stamp collectors might howl, the rest of us would be far happier.

    • Thanks Brad for your comment. I try to keep the politics to a minimum here, so I am going to delete your last line.

  11. Privatize USPS or not, a move to 5-day delivery or every other Tuesday – rates will continue to rise.

    In response to the comment that Direct Mail has better return rates than email, becase email is easier to throw away…consider this:
    What is more likely to make someone comment back on your product or get them attached to your brand? A card that they have to mail back, or a personalized URL?
    The answer, in hard data, is PURL.

    As sad as it is to say, print is dying.
    Digitization of most previously printed colatteral is imminent.

    • You can also use PURLS in direct mail too. I’ve done that successfully!

  12. That’s how we are currently handling 2 PURL projects. Works well.

  13. Unfortunately the service has gone down while the prices have increased, within 4 weeks I have had a gift card stolen from a piece of mail hand carried to a post office only to receive it resealed, empty and stamped that prior to leaving the state it was empty. Then sent something certified mail to only have it show up at the wrong address. So with so many unemployed maybe they should try to hire better employees as well for improvements.

  14. I hate the USPS. Okay, I said it. I hate standing in line having to buy a stamp or trying to search down a place that sells stamps. I hate having to buy them online and then printing them and then blah, blah. The USPS is a transaction barrier, not a facilitator. That’s why they’re losing money hand over fist.

    I pay all my bills online, do all my holiday shopping online and even have my kids shop online. The USPS has made itself a dinosaur. By constantly increasing rates, it’s pricing direct mail out of the hands of businesses and hitting the nails to its own coffin.

    The business model of the USPS has always mystified me. Privatize or die.

  15. Can you provide more information on this? Thanks!

  16. I am a postal worker…a mail carrier…and i do think that some things do need to be improved, but do you think privitization would help?…you would rather have several different people carrying your mail? and do you think you would be able to mail a letter for .44 or would it possibly be quite a bit more as the private company goes for more and more profit?…having quite a few yrs in the PO, i always believed that DMs got a bulk discount for their mailings? is this incorrect? I do think the system needs to be revamped but i know that for myself…i take pride in my work and do my job to the best of my ability, Would not believe how many times i have delivered letters to the proper address when they may have only contained a name and a city, or when an incorrect address is put on…..as for misdelivery, i avg about 3000 letters a day and if i misdeliver one letter in a several WEEK period that i have had a bad week…..for the math wizzes out there….what is that percentage?…..thanks for listening also!

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