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Recent Mailpiece Initiatives Contradict Total Automation Vision
USPS Could Have It Both Ways With a Little Foresight
By T.L. Righter
14 April 2003
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) dreams of a day when all mail processing is done by automation. In reality, the USPS is promoting a nightmarish hodgepodge of odd-shaped mail, mail with repositionable notes, and flimsy non-machinable ad mailings. Moreover, the USPS is fervently striving to offer negotiated service agreements with certain companies that could result in even more mail that is not compatible with automation equipment.

Alone, each of the above initiatives seem to make sense, and cents. The USPS will probably make a few cents on each piece of odd-shaped mail. It will probably make a few cents on each piece of mail with repositionable notes. And even though ad mailings such as the Shop Wise mailing from ADVO, Inc. are non-machinable and difficult to handle by mail carriers, the USPS is making some good money off the mailings. Now, ADVO is wanting an even better deal from the USPS in the form of a negotiated service agreement.

Together, though, this hodgepodge makes little sense for the USPS if it is to one day realize the dream of total automation. The USPS can only blame itself for this predicament. Mailers design and mail pieces based on USPS rates and mailing guidelines. These mailers have become very sophisticated at utilizing these guidelines and rates to produce and mail items in ways that are the most cost and market advantageous to the mailers. For example, a company that gives business seminars nationwide has crafted itself as a non-profit organization, in part, so that it can mail its flimsy seminar announcements at non-profit rates. A national tree organization used the Pound rate to mail saplings as part of a promotional campaign. The saplings were in bulky and bumpy flat pieces that cost only pennies apiece to mail.

Instead of promoting mail that is non-machinable, USPS guidelines and rates should provide incentives for mailers to produce and mail pieces that are perfectly compatible with current and future mail processing equipment. The lowest postal rates should be for pieces that are of the most perfect size and of the most perfect paper quality for processing in automation equipment. With such incentives, I'll bet that mailers would magically start spitting out mailings that were perfectly machine compatible! I'll bet that companies that produce mail printing equipment would start spitting out machines capable of producing machine compatible mailings!

Taking it a step farther, if ADVO wants a negotiated service agreement for example, the USPS could offer a lower rate for Shop Wise mailings that are both machinable and addressed (eliminating the double handling of marriage mail). If AOL wants a lower rate for the millions of CD tins it sends out, the USPS could offer a lower rate for CDs mailed in machinable envelopes (like NetFlix DVD mailings). (AOL CD tins are generally not caseable by mail carriers and are usually carried apart from regular mail.)

If the Postal Service wants to one day realize its dreams, it must first start realizing the obvious. The USPS must provide incentives to mailers that are complimentary with USPS visions. More comments:

  • Near or total automation of mail would result in enormous cost savings for the USPS.
  • Direct mailers that specialize in full coverage mailings, such as ADVO and its Shop Wise mailings, are important contributors to USPS coffers. Full coverage mailings, however, are also one of the biggest contributors to overtime by letter carriers. (The USPS comes out ahead in the end.) Machine-sorted ad mail could greatly reduce overtime costs and straight-time labor costs. The USPS could reap the revenues from ad mailings, without incurring overtime costs!
  • Currently, a large percentage of Standard Mail is processed separately from regular mail at Bulk Mail Centers across the country. (Shouldn't they now be called Standard Mail Centers?) Total automation will require that all classes of mail are processed together. The Presidential Postal Commission will hopefully address this issue.


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