You’ve Got Mail from @USPostalService

Have you ever heard of "phygital" improvements? The US Postal Service is bringing digital into the realm of physical mail, but it still has a long way to go. See how digital advances have helped automate operations and enable new customer services.


In the past twenty years, first class mail volume has declined by 61%, and in the past ten years, all mail volume has declined by 27%.[2] This decline can be attributed to a number of factors – the internet revolution and proliferation of email, the presence of alternative delivery services such as FedEx or UPS, and the Amazon model of self-distributed products. During this same period, the rise of digital operating solutions has also help the Postal Service become more operationally efficient, and better positioned to provide additional services to customers.


In response to declining volumes and the availability of digital operating solutions, the US Postal Service has introduced a number of automated postal solutions. Mail tracking, machine sorting, and intelligent bar codes all helped the mail system be more effective and efficient. In fact, the USPS now processes 91% of mail through automation.[4]

In addition to leveraging digital advancements to improve operations, the post office has also made changes to their business model to improve customer relationships. USPS been developing a program known as Informed Delivery, which uses the automated photographs the postal service takes of every piece of mail[5] to provide previews of mail in transit via mobile app. This is expected to be available for every zip code across the county by 2017, and has already been successfully tested in NYC. Additionally, through a service known as Informed Visibility, the Postal Service is trying to better partner with commercial customers to help personalize and coordinate omni-channel marketing campaigns by helping firms better target their print mail campaigns. [6]

The Postal Service’s current strategy for taking advantage of digital innovation focuses on four key areas – leveraging the Internet of Postal things to better manage their vast operations, enhancing core services such as advancing mailbox technology to adapt to temperature sensitive shipments, improving revenue-generating digital services such as Electronic PostMark, and partnering with external innovators to enhance progress in postal innovation. [7] Despite this progress, the US Postal Service is well behind global leaders when it comes to postal innovation.


Given the uniqueness of the nationwide touch points the USPS network has, it’s difficult to compare much of its digital progress to the alternative delivery providers here in the US. The better comparisons are with the innovative leaders in postal delivery. In reviewing much of the advances other countries have made, I believe there are a few areas the USPS should focus on in the next few years.

Gather, connect, and use data: USPS has a tremendous network of trucks and postmen on the road. If it were to install sensors on the vehicles to track data on traffic and road conditions, the postmen could optimize routes and provide customers with minute-by-minute tracking of package progress. [9]

Customer Control:  MyUSPS is an online and mobile platform which allows customers to see limited tracking data and previews of mail in transit for some markets, but customers have no opportunity to control delivery times. If customers could be fully connected to the USPS network, they could adjust the time and delivery locations as needed and communicate with carriers directly. [10]

Modernizing addresses: One of the huge digital advantages the USPS could offer is to bridge an individual’s email with their physical address, which could enable mail campaigns to cross between digital and print channels, while also protecting people’s identity, and preventing mail loss due to change of address[11]

Digital to Print Marketing: Unaddressed mail campaigns are a significant revenue generator for USPS, though it currently sources these through third parties. If the Postal Service could provide an online interface to digitally develop, then automatically print and sort unaddressed mail campaigns it could provide value and collect revenue serving small to large firm marketing campaigns. [12]

I have been impressed with the progress the US Postal Service has made in adopting digital advancements, but I recognize it still has a significant opportunity for further digitization.

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[1] Cover Photo:

[2] “A Decade Of Facts And Figures – Postal Facts”. N.p., 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

[3] McKinsey & Company (2010) USPS Future Business Model. New York (15 November).

[4] Id

[5] Nixon, Ron. “Postal Service Confirms Photographing All U.S. Mail”. N.p., 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

[6]  “U.S. Postmaster General Unveils Digital Strategy To Support Mailing Industry At National Postal Forum”. N.p., 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

[7] Office of the Inspector General, United States Postal Service,. Riding The Waves Of Postal Digital Innovation. 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016. RARC Report.

[8] Id

[9] OIG, eMailbox and eLockbox: Opportunities for the Postal Service, November 14, 2011, default/files/document-library-files/2015/rarc-wp-12-003_0.pdf.

[10] Id

[11] Id

[12] Id



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Just one more mile to go…

Student comments on You’ve Got Mail from @USPostalService

  1. Thank you for your post on this interesting topic. Based on my experience in this space, I agree that there is still lot’s to do to move USPS into a defensible digital position, I actually believe that your suggestions don’t go quite far enough. The amount of fixed costs in this industry are immense and so the decline in mail volume is life threatening. Possible solutions therefore need to either significantly increase mail volume or drastically reduce costs. Other postal services internationally are experimenting with the following solutions:
    a) significantly reducing the number of delivery days (e.g. Italy: 3-day-delivery in rural areas)
    b) community mailboxes (e.g. Canada)
    c) replacing full time mail delivery employees with part-time students/ stay-at-home parents (e.g. Netherlands)
    d) filling the system with cheap unaddressed mail options (e.g. Germany).
    I believe that USPS will eventually have to evaluate similarly drastic ideas.

  2. It sounds like the same things that are enabling the USPS to effectively automate their operations could be potentially catastrophic for our privacy. Knowing who someone is receiving mail from, at what frequency, and at what times could contain huge amounts of personal information. Effectively these “automation” programs are really mass surveillance. The NACDL has filed a lawsuit ( attempting to uncover potential abuses of this new information as well as generate some accountability for how it may be used in the future. I sincerely hope that if the USPS continues with harvesting information to continue to improve their efficiency, they’ll be sure to safeguard our information appropriately.

  3. The strategies you outlined above can surely help slow down decline in their business and protect their bottom-line in the medium-term. I’m not convinced, however, that these strategies will be sufficient to sustain USPS’ business. Given that businesses use less and less paper, USPS will need to compete with package players to generate top-line growth. One way I think USPS can enter the space is by serving B2B deliveries using their existing assets and perhaps overtime USPS can also win SME businesses from FedEx and the likes.

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