The Return of the Village Post Office
As you've no doubt read by now, the U.S. Postal Service is slimming down. Officials announced this week that in order to save about $2.1 billion per year, the service would no longer be able to deliver regular stamped first-class letters and postcards with next day service. The Postal Service is trying to cut operating costs by $20 billion before 2015 to become profitable. As it stands now, delivering postcards and catalogs to hundreds of millions of people six days a week is a losing proposition. In 2010, the Postal Service lost $8.5 billion. To cope, the system is changing.
In September, officials announced that about half of its roughly 487 mail processing plants would close to help trim expenditures, and in July announced a plan to close 3,700 of its nearly 32,000 post offices. The short explanation here is that much of the Postal Service's bread and butter is being eaten up by the Internet, which has enabled electronic delivery of such postal staples as bills and bank statements. Mail delivery has dropped by more than 43 billion items over the past five years, according to this report from CBS.
What this shakes out to on the local level is that the way we think about the delivery and receipt of mail is likely to face some significant changes in the coming years. The friendly mail carrier is probably not going anywhere just yet, but in addition to the letter in your mailbox, there may be a growing number of ways and places that you receive whatever it is you receive in the mail.
One idea being encouraged by the Postal Service is to revive the “Village Post Office,” a nostalgic throwback to the early days of mail services when the local drugstore or gas station would also provide stamps, mailing and even P.O. box services. The Postal Service is maybe not-so-actively seeking local businesses, presumably in the areas affected by its 3,200 branch closures, to take on the extra role of playing post office.
Private industry is also approaching this territory. Online retailer Amazon has recently begun testing a new idea for deliveries. It's an automated locker system that would be located in 7-Eleven convenience stores where Amazon shoppers could choose to have packages delivered. This post from The Daily suggests it's a convenience move for people who may be away from home when the delivery person comes or who don't want packages coming to the workplace. That may be, but probably more likely is that this method—delivering a whole neighborhood's online purchases to one address—is a lot cheaper for Amazon and, by extension, the customer. The two companies have already begun testing the idea, with this ATM/locker-like combination at a Seattle 7-Eleven.
Alternative delivery services have been around for some time now, and it may be that alternative delivery outposts are the new development in this sphere. With the Postal Service's budget troubles and the changes in mail patterns, it seems likely that government-run mail delivery will evolve into a much different and smaller form. As its nature shifts and business reacts, the way we receive our mail may become more like take out than delivery.
Photo credit: Reuters/Mike Segar