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As USPS Outsources the Counter, Will Ecommerce Packages Be Safe?

In November, the U.S. Postal Service launched a Retail Partner Expansion Program pilot with Staples, an office-products chain-store. Under the pilot program, Staples sells postal products and services at select stores in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California and Georgia – including Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express.

That means online sellers can go to a participating Staples store and mail packages 7 days a week with expanded hours. (The USPS won’t necessarily pick up and process packages the day it is entered into the mail stream.) Here’s how the USPS worded it in one of its press releases:

“The Staples retail store in Pittsburgh is one of the first locations to open a USPS counter for the convenience of mailing and shipping customers seeking an alternative location to conduct post office transactions.”

While calling them “USPS counters,” they’ll actually be manned by USPS-trained Staples employees.

The union representing postal workers went on a media blitz last week to protest the move, stating that opening postal retail units staffed by non-USPS employees is a disservice to postal workers and the nation’s mail service. Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told CNN the union would be willing to support the program if it were staffed with United States Postal Service employees (it’s not).

Going Postal published details of the partnership in a November article, revealing that the pilot program would end on September 30, 2014, at which point the program will be evaluated and may be expanded or discontinued. Going Postal described the mail classes offered through the Staples CPUs (Contract Postal Units), and said Staples would offer 5% Staples Rewards for the postage on packages paid for and shipped at its locations (but would offer no Rewards points for the sale of postage stamps).

The article (the best source for information about the program) also reveals the revenue model for Staples and said the USPS has previously (but unsuccessfully) attempted such CPU programs with national retailers including Sears.

Last week the APWU union delivered letters to managers of Staples stores across the country that read in part, “Only U.S. Postal Service postal employees are fully accountable to the public, and sworn to uphold the sanctity of the mail.”

Janice Kelble, legislative director of the New Hampshire Postal Workers Union, told the Union Leader newspaper, “We are adamantly opposed to any efforts to replace decent postal jobs with non-union, low-wage, non-postal workers who have no accountability for the safety and security of the mail.”

And that gets to the root of what has some online sellers concerned.

A letter from an EcommerceBytes reader pointed to the convenience factor of the Staples CPUs, but brought up two concerns:

  • Would packages posted at Staples counters be as secure as packages handed over the counter at the Post Office?
  • And, “With Postal Service employees facing job losses, would there be a backlash in the form of intentional handling delays of packages left with Staples?”

A commentor on a Washington Post article about the USPS-Staples partnership wrote, “Do I want my precious mail handled by a minimum wage, “specially trained” Staples worker? Or do I want it protected by a Federal employee?”

Let us know what you think by posting a comment on the EcommerceBytes Letters to the Editor blog.

Update 1/26/14: U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Dave Partenheimer reached out to EcommerceBytes about this article and said no APWU jobs have been impacted by the pilot partnership with Staples. “The Postal Service ended its last fiscal year with a net loss of 5 billion dollars – the 7th consecutive year for net losses. This highlights the need for us to continue to seek new growth opportunities and reduce costs and the urgent need for Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to provide a long-term solution to our financial challenges. Our pilot partnership with Staples gives customers more choices on where and when they can purchase postal products and services and helps secure the long-term future of the Postal Service.”

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.