Yesterday the USPS delivered a package from Amazon in a corrugated box that looked like it been tossed into a cage of chimpanzees just before feeding hour. Normally, you think of corrugated boxes as being on the indestructible side of the packaging family. And because of this — despite much higher postage costs — we often gravitate to this kind of packaging for added protection.
Chimpanzees 1, Hardcover Book, 0.
I don’t know what mail carriers (and I’m including UPS and FEDEX here) are doing with our parcels during transit beyond overcharging us for handling, but I’ve received some packages in some truly dreadful condition lately. And if you feel like getting your hair blown back, try googling “USPS Damaged My Package”. I am not alone. I feel bad for the eBay sellers and the Amazon resellers whose livelihoods depend largely on the mail service.
Given these facts, the condition of the package itself is not as critical as whether or not that package protected the contents. And here, Amazon is to blame, not the USPS. There was way too much excess capacity and internal shift in the box containing my book order. Because of the excess capacity in the box, the internal shift subjected the books to every bump and bruise incurred by the box itself. These photos show you exactly what happened to the books along the way.
Is it a book or a paper airplane?
So how do you ensure your package survives the postal journey?
Do not be lured into an oversized package that boasts protection.
Take out a measuring tape. Measure the length, width, and thickness of the contents you want to mail. This will help you shop for the right package that will fit your contents.
Don’t buy more than you need. Using a packaging solution that is far bigger than your contents requires more filler so your content don’t shift inside and get damaged.
Think about the requirements of your packaging solution. This avoids overpackaging and overspending. Does it need to be waterproof? Does it need to protect something fragile? Do you need perimeter protection or top/bottom protection or both? Is it recyclable?
Who is doing the assembly, you or someone else? Will it be used in a fulfillment center environment, or will it be assembled on the boardroom table by office staff? Consider whether pre-assembly and peel-and-stick closure is a “nice to have” or a “need to have” feature.
What is your shipping method? If postal cost is a big consideration, head to your shipper’s website and review your options through the cost-savings lens of your carrier.
Plan ahead. Don’t make your packaging a last-minute decision. That almost guarantees that you will overpackage and pay too much for the privilege.
Send me your overpackaging stories… and tell me how you overcame your addiction.
Many of our clients are surprised to hear that eco-friendly presentation and mailing materials can cost the same or less than unfriendly materials. Unfortunately, the marketplace has been trained to assume that making eco-friendly choices comes at a price. I’ve seen businesses eliminate (needed) materials altogether in an attempt to go green because they don’t think they have budget-friendly options.
Eco-friendly can be budget-friendly by aligning with smart buying principles:
– Buying power. If your supplier makes a major investment in buying, let’s say Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper (more on that topic here), then the cost of that material becomes very competitive against less environmentally attractive stocks.
– Economies of scale. The Conformer portfolio made of recycled milk jug poly costs the same as buying it from virgin poly (recyclable, but not made of post-consumer recycled material). Our base materials come from a poly extruder that specializes and extrudes milk jug poly in volume. Then it becomes an aesthetic rather than a price-based decision. That’s ideal.
– Long-term eco-commitment of your vendors. Becoming FSC-certified is an arduous process with upfront costs. But once an organization has realigned its operations to comply with the Forest Stewardship Council’s specifications, the ongoing costs of this inventory management system become operationally streamlined. Vendors that dabble in green products don’t achieve this cost benefit.
– Buying quality products. Durability reduces the probability that your materials become insta-trash. In other words, if it looks like junk, it gets junked. If your presentation and mailing materials can survive the journey from the printer to storage to fulfillment to more storage to possibly mail processing to your customer’s desk — and still look good doing it — your materials will more likely be reused by your customer. (And you get bonus points if your name is all over it.)
Tell us about your experiences sourcing eco-friendly materials on a budget, and we will gladly shine the spotlight on you here on the Conformer Products blog.
As anybody in new product development or technology can tell you, it’s challenging to get people to try a product they’ve never seen in action before. We at Conformer Products can attest to this issue, which is why product sampling is our most important marketing tactic. Because despite our website, the photo gallery and the videos, people still want to touch the product with their own two hands. And if you’ve got a good product, sampling is a great way to go.
That’s why a featured packaging innovation from Anton Steeman’s Best in Packaging blog caught my attention. If you scroll down to the bottom of this article, you’ll see TinyBottles, a set of 50 mL test tube-like samples of wine that can be shipped to you. This sampling kit enables you to sample new wines from the San Francisco region far from the tasting room. Interestingly, this innovation comes from a company called Crushpad, which is in the business of helping winemakers market and sell their wines.
How important is sampling in your business? Take our poll and tell us!
With a surprising and unanimous decision, the Postal Regulatory Commission has thrown out the USPS request to increase postal rates by 5.4%.
What does this mean for businesses dependent on the USPS? It means no postal rate increases at all until May of next year. I suspect there will be no changes to the DMM (Domestic Mail Manual) and that NFMs are not going away so quickly.
The Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent agency responsible for regulatory oversight of the USPS, painted a crystal-clear picture of why they have denied the rate hike. “…The Postal Service has made significant strides over the past few years to contain its costs in response to falling mail volumes caused by the recession and the ongoing electronic diversion of the mail. The Postal Service achieved over $6 billion in cost reductions in 2009. These results indicate that the Price Cap is working and providing the right signals for the Postal Service to reduce costs and improve efficiency.”
The briefing states that the primary cause of the liquidity crisis is directly tied to its onerous requirement for the Postal Service to pre-fund its future retiree health benefit premiums.
This dramatic update certainly brings up many additional questions. We will see what comes in the next few days, and we’ll post answers to these questions as fast as we can get them. Stay tuned.
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending National Postal Customer Council Day at Gotham Hall in NYC. If USPS matters are important to your business, this is a must-attend annual event.
Similar to last year’s simulcast, this year’s presentation included USPS top sales and marketing brass: Steve Kearney, Susan Plonkey, Pat Donahoe, and Postmaster General Jack Potter. You can view the video presentation here. Not surprisingly, the focus of the presentation was on the continual decline in mail volume and what the USPS is doing to address this problem. The keyword repeated over and over was “innovation.” I heard lots of talk of new rate categories, summer sales, and the Intelligent Mail Barcode.
Why is the USPS taking on all of the “Innovation” work themselves? When are they going to realize that declining mail volume is not their problem alone?
The USPS needs to figure out how to invite their biggest clients and the vendors serving those clients to join the party. I can tell you from extensive experience that developing, testing, and launching new mail products, while following the USPS playbook, is nothing short of an epic challenge.
The USPS could take some guidance from the technology world and embrace an open-source mentality. The technology sector learned a dozen years ago that if you hold on to your trade secrets and defend your source code by building a brick wall around it, the only thing you will accomplish is making sure no one advances and broadens what you have created.
The folks at the USPS need to break down the brick walls and allow customers and vendors in to develop new products and services. Stop creating complicated rules and regulations that keep us at arm’s length. Allow us access so that we can develop products that grow the business, creating win-win business opportunities for the USPS, their customers, and the vendors who serve those customers.
As an innovator of packaging and postal solutions, I have learned all about the strict regulations of the United States Postal Service. As an entrepreneur, I often find these rules, established to prevent vendor favoritism, frustrating, time-consuming, and generally counterproductive to the growth of the mail industry. On the other hand, those strict rules level the playing field, allowing growing companies like mine to compete with industry incumbents.
Robert Bernstock just learned the hard way that the USPS doesn’t tolerate playing by your own rules. Mr. Bernstock recently stepped down from his post as the VP of Mailing and Shipping Services after less than two years on the job. Mr. Bernstock joined the USPS with much fanfare. His private-sector background leading Campbell’s Soup and Scotts Miracle-Gro, among others, promised to re-invigorate slumping mail volumes.
Well, it turns out Mr. Bernstock’s private-sector bad habits got him into some public-sector trouble. Investigations by the Office of Inspector General have uncovered numerous ethics infractions, including granting millions of dollars of no-bid contracts to companies with whom he held board positions, and using USPS computers and staffers to conduct outside business. You can read the details here at The Washington Post, or dig into the full report from the Office of Inspector General.
In the two years under Mr. Bernstock’s watchful eye, mail volumes continued to stagnate and slump. “Summer Sale” promotions he was responsible for largely flopped, and his “If it fits, it ships” promotion of Priority Mail never made much sense to me as it put them in head-to-head competition with FedEx and UPS, a clear bloodbath of price competition.
The USPS needs to sail into the Blue Ocean by focusing on their strengths, creating new opportunities that make the competition irrelevant. The USPS knocks at every household and business in the America six times a week. They need to create additional revenue streams beyond delivering a shrinking stack of mail.