WASHINGTON – As more Americans come to understand more about the operations of the U.S. Postal Service and its increasingly dire financial predicament, they are willing to let some services that the agency provides slip.
Just don’t mess with package delivery.
That was one of the takeaways from a recent series of focus groups the research organization InfoTrends conducted across the country, commissioned by the USPS Office of Inspector General.
InfoTrends Director Matt Swain presented the firm’s findings at this month’s PostalVision 2020 conference, where he described a deep split in consumers’ expectations about the delivery schedules for packages and regular mail.
“From a package and parcel perspective you had a lot of people that cited, you know, “I get my medications, or I want the package.” That’s a different discussion and, frankly, six-day, seven-day (weekly package delivery) is what consumers want,” Swain said.
“From a letter mail delivery perspective, almost everybody was willing to go six to five. We didn’t have to push that on them,” he added. “When we go to the next level, I can tell you that a lot of people are willing to go five to three.”
The latest gauge of consumer sentiment comes as the Postal Service has been trying to reposition itself as a sustainable enterprise in the face of steep volume declines in First Class mail – USPS’ most profitable product – which have only been partially offset by growth in the package business driven by ecommerce. But the tumble in revenue has been severe, and, when combined with significant structural costs associated with the Postal Service’s labor force and infrastructure, has produced quarterly net losses in the billions.
The findings of the focus groups, which were controlled to represent the various demographic constituencies, seemed to argue in favor of some of the changes the Postal Service has proposed. The agency has been seeking authorization to scale down to five-day weekly delivery for regular mail, while it has been toying with expanding package delivery to Sundays.
InfoTrends’ polling also highlighted a widespread misunderstanding in the way the Postal Service works. Nearly 70 percent of focus group participants believed that the Postal Service was bankrolled by the taxpayers. After they learned that it is a self-funded enterprise, the respondents were generally more understanding about the need to adjust services to cut costs.
“Throughout the discussion we wanted to get into the level of wants versus needs,” Swain said. “What they want is to keep everything the same, what they need is far less.”
Put in that context, participants in InfoTrends’ focus groups appeared more willing to accept a reduced delivery schedule for regular mail and other service changes, such as clustered community mailboxes.
“While change may not be comfortable or convenient, many focus group participants recognize that the Postal Service faces tradeoffs, given the realities of its financial situation,” Swain said. “We hear Americans don’t want this. Well, by and large, yeah, they don’t want to lose anything, because you’re taking something away that you’ve always had. But when you really get down to it, a lot of Americans were willing to go six (day delivery) to five, five to three – just get me my letter mail a few days a week, and that’s good enough for me.”