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Is USPS Adequately Overseeing Its Approved Shippers Program?

You don’t have to visit your local post office to buy postage stamps or mail a package thanks to a program launched in 2005 called the Approved Shipper program. As USPS expands access to postal services outside of post offices, the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (USPS OIG) is now trying to determine if the USPS maintains adequate oversight of the Approved Shipper program.

The USPS has agreements with over 6,000 entities, allowing retailers, shipping stores, and other partners to sell postage and accept mail from consumers. It does not require exclusivity – participants in the Approved Shipper Program can offer other shipping products to their customers as well – and they can even charge shippers a convenience fee.

In 2013, the Approved Shipper program increased its annual revenue by 57 percent.

This year, the program received much attention in the media thanks to a pilot program with Staples to open “USPS counters” inside the office-supply retail stores manned by non-union Staples employees. Unions protested outside Staples stores claiming that the goal of the program was to replace the living-wage jobs held by USPS employees with low-wage jobs in the private sector.

The USPS ended the pilot with Staples in July, reporting at the time that 27% of the postal business in the Staples pilot occurred outside normal business hours.

In a study published in February, the USPS OIG found that rural participants had security concerns with trusting their mail with non postal employees in non postal retail locations, such as grocery stores. “This often prevailed over the convenience of co-location,” according to the report.

The Office of Inspector General is seeking input from mailers about the program. In a recent blog post, it asked the following questions:

Does the Approved Shippers program increase or decrease the Postal Service competitive advantage in the mailing and shipping service?

Have you ever used an Approved Shipper? If so, were you pleased with the services offered? How did you feel about the security of your mail?

What effect do you think Approved Shippers have on the Postal Service, their employees, and customers? Please explain.

You can visit the USPSOIG.gov blog and leave a comment.

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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). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.