I grew up in Wisconsin. I’ve lived here all my life. When I was a kid, my dad and I would stand outside and watch for tornados. It was not the smartest thing, but there is still something about ominous weather fronts that intrigue me. The smell in the air right before a thunderstorm, and the calm right before the wind hits take me right back to my childhood. Back then, storms and tornadoes were referred to by their strength, or even as “the storm of the century” or “the perfect storm.” Now we hear of “supercell” storms. These storms are a weather phenomenon that occurs when a number of conditions happen all at once and become dangerous. I believe we are weathering the equivalent of a supercell storm with the United States Postal Service right now.
There are a number of happenings which have hurt the post office. COVID-19 took a heavy toll on the post office and trucking industry: the post office is struggling to keep workers safe, and quarantines are reducing their labor forces. Similarly, the transportation industry is experiencing a driver shortage and truck availability is low, driving up costs and making the delivery of mail staggeringly slow.
On top of this, the post office was hit hard with election mail and an extraordinarily heavy holiday season. Election mail pushed new limits with higher volumes of mail-in and absentee voting. USPS estimated they delivered 800 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, all with a depleted staff and transportation issues. Holiday volume was up about 50 million pieces from 2019, and 130 million from 2018. I’m sure you heard people upset when their packages didn’t arrive for Christmas.
The final straw: postage rates are on the rise. Some Flat Marketing Mailers (Standard Mailers) are being hit especially hard by this increase. The postal service is trying to make sure each class of mail pays for itself, and flat mailers are not carrying their share of the load.
This supercell storm is also hurting customers. For many mailers, the importance of delivery is key, and the slow delivery frustrations I hear about are gut wrenching. In my 30 years of working closely with mail, it has never been like this. I am seeing mailings that are days, even weeks late, and there is nothing the sender can do about it. Conventional wisdom says that this would go away after Christmas, but we still see mail facilities with 24 to 48 hours in off-loading delays.
What does this mean for us? If you are a mailer, you are frustrated, and I don’t blame you. But take a step back. Just like at the end of most storms, there’s a silver lining. Look at the value of mail service. Mail allows a physical extension of your business to touch your client. That touch is invaluable. The postal service rolled out programs in the last several years to increase the value of mail, not only as a physical touch point, but as a digital one as well. The use of QR codes and Informed Delivery service, to name two, can escort your customer from your physical mail piece directly to your internet presence.
Weathering storms teaches us to be more resilient and to make the most of today. We need to leverage every touchpoint, every resource spent in service to that connection. Preplanning can also help us look at ways to discount postal pricing. Response devices like QR codes can improve interaction. List hygiene, such as household consolidation, removal of duplicates and better targeting can improve your reach. Leveraging services, from co-mailing to improved class rates, can lower costs. Reach out to one of our team members for ideas; we can weather the storm together.
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