Tag Archives: United States Postal Service

Try Googling “USPS Damaged My Package”

USPS Damaged My Package

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.
  • Whatever packaging option you choose, the packaging solution must conform to its contents to minimize the shift.
  • Use packaging that is sized correctly to the contents, and if it’s not, use eco-friendly fill to make up the difference.

These guidelines can’t guarantee a safe journey among the chimpanzees, but they dramatically improve the odds.

Sari McConnell at smcconnell@conformerinc.com

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Postmaster General Abruptly Announces Retirement

Postmaster General Jack Potter, after serving nine years in that role, announced his retirement today, effective next month.  Patrick Donahoe, current Deputy Postmaster General, will take over as the new PMG.

I have had the pleasure of meeting Patrick Donahoe several times.  While I found him genuine and approachable, I do not envy his newfound responsibility.  He is taking control of a ship in the midst of a massive storm.

During his tenure, PMG Jack Potter has seen highs and lows.  US mail volume hit its all-time high in 2006, processing 212 billion mailpieces, only to see a steep decline three years later to 177 billion units; 2010 is forecasted for 150 billion units.

There is no shortage of excuses for the rapid decline.  The Great Recession coupled with the rapid shift to electronic communications certainly top the list.  Combine mail volume decline with the congressional requirements for healthcare pre-funding, and it is no wonder that the USPS lost about $6 billion for its 2010 fiscal year.

The USPS needs to make significant changes to correct its rapidly declining business.  The Washington Post’s profile of Donahoe leads one to question whether we will in fact see that change:

“Donahoe’s career path mirrored Potter’s for much of the last three decades. They both rose through the ranks from entry-level positions to mid-level managers to occupants of the best offices at the Postal Service’s L’Enfant Plaza headquarters. They graduated from the same management training program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology… And much like Potter, Donahoe eagerly wants Congress to back off and let postal executives manage USPS in a more nimble way.”

Time will tell if Mr. Donahoe can bring about the level of change needed to correct the USPS path.  To paraphrase one high-level executive closely associated with the U.S. Post Office, this organization is the only one he can think of that has three products and 10,000 prices.

Donahoe, along with his 700,000 employees, have a formidable job ahead of them.

-Bob Makofsky at bmakofsky@conformerinc.com

USPS Innovation: A Closed-Door Affair

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.

Bob Makofsky at bmakofsky@conformerinc.com

USPS Marketing Exec Robert Bernstock Resigns

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.

-Bob Makofsky at bmakofsky@conformerinc.com

Hall of Shame #5, S&H

How many times have you shopped online only to abandon your shopping cart when you see the shipping and handling charge?  I do it all the time.

When I talk to the packaging industry about changing packaging to improve postage rates, a common response I hear is, “That’s okay, the customer pays for it in shipping and handling?”  Wrong.  Here is why.

If I buy a small part like a data card for $45, I am charged $7.99 for shipping and handling.  Let’s do the math:
$0.30 for the box
$0.05 for the peanuts
$0.10 to print and apply the label
$5 for UPS shipping
Total packaging and postage is $5.45.
$7.99 – $5.45 = $2.54 profit.  Not bad.

Light box. What could it be?

Here is my data card, looking cozy on a bed of peanuts.

Now let’s make some smarter packaging choices.  Data cards are flat.  There is nothing to crush, and they are unlikely to be damaged.  If the data card were shipped in a flat paperboard mailer, the package would likely qualify as a first-class USPS flat.

Again, the math:
$0.25 for a paperboard mailer
no fill material
$0.10 to print and apply the label
$1.39 to mail a first-class flat by USPS
Total packaging and postage is $1.74
$7.99 – $1.74 = $6.25 profit.  Much better.

Better still, slash your shipping and handling, pass the savings on to your customers, and watch as your customers abandon shopping carts less frequently.

by Bob Makofsky bmakofsky@conformerinc.com

Conformer to Speak at Envelope Manufacturers Conference

The executive team here at Conformer, Marvin, Sari, and I will be participating in a presentation and panel discussion at the Envelope Manufacturers Association fall conference.  The topic of discussion is a core value of our organization — innovation.

The presentation will center on the book Blue Ocean Strategy.  The book provides a “systematic approach to making the competition irrelevant and creating uncontested market spaces.”  The Blue Ocean Strategy argues that corporations can either battle in the shark infested waters of red oceans where products and services are equal and price is the primary differentiator, or we can create blue oceans where innovation opens uncontested markets.

Product innovation is not foreign to the envelope industry, but what Blue Ocean Strategy suggests is that companies need to create dramatic changes in their product line up whereby new offerings create altogether new markets, not simply improvements on existing products.  For example, two years ago we introduced the Conformer Media Mailer, a radical shift in product packaging designed to mail CDs and DVDs at dramatically lower postage rates.  Until our innovation came along, the primary packaging available to the media fulfillment industry were ubiquitous bubble mailers and small cartons.  Our Conformer Media Mailer enables low cost envelopes to compete directly with higher cost product categories. When you factor in halving the postage rate, our Conformer solution makes our “competition irrelevant”.

We are in the process of writing our presentation for the October 29 event.  We will share it with you in the coming weeks.  To learn more about the Conformer Media Mailer, click here.

by Bob Makofsky bmakofsky@conformerinc.com

News from Postmaster General Jack Potter

Greetings from National Postal Customer Council Day, aka National PCC DAY. I attended this event in San Francisco while my colleagues Marv and Bob heard Jack Potter speak live to the NY chapter. My live televised version of this events happened to feature a close-up of Marv so I know he was paying close attention to the speech.

In past years, the Post Office has largely focused its priorities on operational issues — the roll-out of its Flat Sorting System (FSS) for example.  Conformer products have a lovely relationship with this automated processing equipment, but even so, I was excited this time when PMG Potter’s address made a distinct shift away from operations and to squarely address customer needs.  Doing business with the post office is not as easy as it could be for our customers, to paraphrase Mr. Potter, and that’s about to change.

We’ve spent enough time talking to the folks in Washington D.C. over the years to have already picked up on this sea change in attitude towards innovators like Conformer Inc. who have been working tirelessly to keep the U.S. Postal Service’s customers happy and “in the mail.”   We’ve been praised for our expertise in the USPS’s operational and pricing changes, and for our commitment to partnering with the post office to make sure that our new products are well tested and proven on USPS processing equipment and meet all requirements.  Conformer Inc. is reaping the rewards of playing by the rules and our work is being recognized as a very good thing for the U.S. Postal Service.  A happy USPS customer is a customer that stays “in the mail.”  And we all know that the USPS needs every customer it can get.

-Conformer General Sari McConnell at smcconnell@conformerinc.com

Jack Potter, Postmaster General

Jack Potter, Postmaster General