U.S. Postal Service to e-compete

February 4, 2008 8:05:26 AM PST
The U.S. Postal Service and its counterparts in other countries are tapping technology to cut costs, and expand into electronic services.More and more of their customers are e-mailing rather than sending letters, paying bills on the internet, and transferring pictures and videos online.

In the United States, first-class mail volume has dropped seven percent since 2001. That is an average of 1.3 billion fewer letters, postcards and bills each year. A 15 percent boost in bulk advertising and other discounted mailings has so far offset only some of the loss in revenue.

Some efforts by the USPS have been successful. It offers ordering stamps and packing supplies online, plus provides delivery confirmation electronically without mailing back a receipt.

The Postal Service also helps retailers like L.L. Bean Inc. generate preprinted labels to include with shipments for merchandise returns. Merchants, including eBay Inc. auction participants, also can create shipping labels and buy postage online.

Some USPS efforts have not met success. It had to cancel some programs started in 1999 and 2000, including its own electronic bill payment service. Most tend to use their bank websites or company websites to do that directly.

In France, La Poste prins e-mails that customers send in and delivers them to physical mailboxes with registered notes and time stamps.

Also in Europe, Italy's Poste Italiane will archive loan documents for banks so that a party can retrieve the original document with an electronic postmark as proof of its authenticity.

In North Africa, Tunisia's postal service offers a pre-charged payment service for paying utility bills and buying things online.

How long will it take for the current version of the U.S. Postal Service to go the way of the pony express?

"There will be a day of reckoning, but I don't know how far down the road that is," said Tony Conway, a former USPS executive who now heads the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers." First-class mail continues to decline. I don't see anything that suggests that trend will reverse itself." (Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)