Technology will allow seeing snail mail from far away.
The U.S. Postal Service has been busy pursuing innovative ideas and new technology to trim its growing debt, streamline unneeded services and stay relevant to today’s consumers.
Among them: a year-long pilot project in Washington, D.C. taps into the latest technology to allow consumers to find out what’s in their mailbox when they are traveling or just not home; plans to integrate direct mail with mobile technology via mobile devices for business customers; and implement new bar code technology as a mail tracking tool for large retailers.
The ideas could help cut the Postal Service’s $12 billion debt and compete with myriad modern communication vehicles.
“You’ll be able to see what’s in your mailbox,” said James Cochrane, a USPS executive in charge of innovations in technologies and tracking systems. “We’re investing in the future. We have some real challenges.”
The technology allows USPS to send an email or text message telling a consumer what’s at home in their mailbox, including the address of the sender but not what’s in the envelope. Additional pilots are planned in the coming year, said Cochrane, Vice President of Product Information.
It is one of many initiatives designed to bring the Postal Service into the 21st century as it is competing for business amid many social media and mobile technology tools.
USPS is also testing a mobile device for business customers, offering a 2 percent discount on standard and first class mail that includes a two-dimensional bar code that can be scanned by a mobile device.
“Mobile technologies continue to be one of the fastest-growing marketing sectors,” said Gary Reblin, vice president of Domestic Products. “The integration of direct mail with mobile technologies will not only improve the long-term value of direct mail but also increase returns for merchants.”
In addition, USPS has developed the Intelligent Mail Bar Code (IMb) and Intelligent Mail Package Bar Code that provide more information about an individual item and its route to the Postal Service than the POSTNET code that has been used for 30 years in routing and tracking the mail. IMb — for which an app for iPhones is available — is already in use by 80% of direct mail from big businesses such as retailers like LL Bean and magazines like Time. It will become mandatory on Jan. 1, 2014.
“Commercially, it becomes a valuable tool,” Cochrane said. “Businesses will be able to see when mail is being delivered and be able to send a text message that your catalog has arrived.”
Large retailers will be able to use the new bar code as a tool to understand when mail arrives in a market and when they have to staff up their call centers to receive calls from consumers, for example.
There’s a discount for big companies, too – 3/10 of one penny off on first class mail for businesses that fully uses IM. It doesn’t sound like much but it adds up to thousands of dollars if you are sending out a bulk mail, Cochrane said.
Big mailers will be able to put on the coding in their mailrooms. USPS affix the coding on individual letters mailed by consumers. Consumers will not be able to track their mail right now, but USPS is testing a bar code that individuals would be able to use to track their mail, Cochrane said.