The Mailing and Shipping Industry, the Posts, and Global E-Commerce: Building a Better Business Case

The mailing and shipping industry in the U.S. still is operating in a kind of time-warp where little is really changing. Congress refuses to act to provide the Postal Service with a viable business model, and the legislative proposals on the table are nowhere near comprehensive enough. The Postal Service continues to focus on efficiency and cost control, but such strategies will not be enough. Posts in most of the rest of the developed world are moving on.

Five Interconnected Trends are Driving Future Industry Scenarios: Creating a Vision

The first trend is the growing impact of a new type of customer – household CEO’s who are empowered by the availability of choices in a connected, multi-channel world.z1 They have multiple devices (PC’s, tablets, gaming devices, and connected televisions, but the dominant device – soon to be supplemented by “wearable” technology – is the mobile phone.

The second trend is the expansion of the marketplace from national to global, but with a twist. That twist is that even global companies will have to look like local companies and respect individual consumer needs for service and business relationships.

A third trend is the pervasive role of “big data” and powerful new analytical tools. Companies will know much more about their customers, and customers can know much more about the firms they may consider and the available alternatives. The new tools will drive efficiency and service improvements.

A fourth tend is that technology will enable firms to do what they do more effectively than ever. More importantly, they will be able to build new capabilities to do things differently, to do different things, and to create profitable new products and services.

A fifth trend is the growing importance of new kinds of partnerships and alliances. Few organizations will be able to do everything they need to do without assistance, and traditional forms of contracts or business relationships may not provide the necessary flexibility, reach, responsiveness, innovation or capital to do what needs to be done.

Key Questions for Post and the Industry: Building a Better Business Case for Mail

The first and most fundamental question is how mail can become a better tool for businesses and households in a dynamic, competitive market. z2How can mail enhance its role in a multi-channel environment?  How will it help businesses and households build better relationships and accomplish tasks important to them?

The second set of questions involve how posts and their partners can create a better experience in a global market. The experience must be easy to use from start to finish, convenient and secure. The entire value chain must operate seamlessly with resolution of such issues as global addressing, customs clearance and international pricing, payment and returns, buyer and seller protections, sustainability, and last mile delivery flexibility and convenience.

As posts and their partners become “information powerhouses”, a whole new set of questions arises. How will the industry allocate responsibility for data accuracy? For information security and privacy? Data analysis and storage? Operational redundancy and robustness in the face of disruptions? What tools and techniques will be most important, and how will posts and the industry use them to become more efficient? How will we use them to become more effective in meeting customer needs? How will responsibilities be shared?

A fourth set of questions will address leveraging new technologies to build an improved postal platform and mailing industry value chain. How will advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, the “Internet of Things”, materials handling and logistics (including drones and 3D printing), and customer interfaces help the industry reduce costs and improve service? How can existing processes be dramatically improved? What can posts and the industry do differently? How will this technology enable the industry to introduce profitable new products and services?

Another set of issues revolve around how the industry can help improve the “brand image” of mail and value of postal services in the digital age. How can trust in the system be enhanced? How can reliability and efficiency improvements be made more visible to the public and potential mailers? What can be done to improve the image of “junk” mail and to increase customer service throughout the value chain? How can the industry encourage entrepreneurship, celebrate and publicize successful innovation and innovators? What are the most valuable aspects of universal and public service to customers and mailers? How can mailers, mail, and consumers be better protected? What new forms of alliances and partnerships will provide the resources to increase flexibility, responsiveness, innovation and capital within the industry?

The Importance of Not Getting Trapped in the Moment

The industry and the Postal Service have a number of critical and immediate issues to resolve. Postal management and its industry partners, mailers, and public policy makers obviously spend most of their time and attention focusing on the immediate future, and on very specific issues such as postal prices and regulations, service performance, and financial condition. But another real risk is that there may be no energy or resources left to effectively explore future opportunities. There is a need for a continuing discussion that focuses on these trends and the questions that must be addressed for success in the future.


PostalVision2020/5.0 “Customers, Connections, Collaboration” dates and preliminary agenda are now set. Check out the innovative conference that looks at the future of the postal ecosystem. Learn more about PostalVision2020/5.0.z3By Kent Smith

Kent Smith is Research Director, Ursa Major Associates / Postal Vision 2020. His 38 year career in the Postal Service included Rate Classification Research, Market Research, and Strategic Planning. Ursa Major Associates / Postal Vision 2020 is dedicated to taking a broader, longer-term perspective on the future of the mailing industry ecosystem. The thoughts expressed in this “Point of View” are his own.

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