ARLINGTON, Va. – The dramatic spike in online retail sales has provided a welcome bright spot for the U.S. Postal Service, which has been buffeted in recent years by declining mail volumes and hefty costs associated with its workforce due to its mandated requirement to prefund long-term pension and healthcare liabilities.
So it’s no wonder that the executive responsible for evaluating potential new revenue lines is looking to ecommerce as a cornerstone of the agency’s future business.
Gary Reblin, the Postal Service’s vice president of new products and innovation, appeared at the recent PostalVision 2020 conference, where he noted the industry projection that the $200 billion ecommerce market is expected to nearly double in the next five years.
And the Postal Service wants to do everything it can to accelerate that growth.
For instance, Reblin cited a consumer survey in which 6.5 percent of respondents said they don’t bother with shopping online because they don’t want to encounter hassles with returns.
That sounds like a problem that the Postal Service, with its increasing reliance on technology to handle the flow of packages at every point through its infrastructure, could help online retailers address.
“They don’t like the experience. That is something us as shippers directly control. So how do we make the solutions that can help drive this differently? How do we bring more people into our network because we’ve offered solutions to make it easy?” Reblin said.
“Maybe we make return label easier?” he suggested. “Maybe someone doesn’t even need to put a return label on. Maybe they just put it back in the box and because we have all the information on it, and the bar code can be used either way, we can now just use that to get it back to the merchant and the person that received the package doesn’t even have to think, just put it back in there, tape it back up, put it out on your doorstep, and the shipping label acts as a round-trip label.”
Reblin’s comments come amid an increasing acknowledgment among industry experts that consumers, as a whole, are growing more demanding in their expectations of online sellers. So once a customer-friendly industry practice takes hold – say, free shipping – shoppers will turn away from the retailers who remain hold-outs.
“That’s a trend that isn’t going anywhere. No one’s going to figure out how to take that back,” said Brody Buhler, who heads up a set of shipping programs at Accenture.
Reblin agrees, and hints that the Postal Service is actively working to bring to market new options for customized package delivery, building on the features in My.USPS.com, where customers can set delivery instructions, among other options.
“That’s one thing that I believe will change over the next three to four years is consumer choice,” he said. “We’re developing more applications and more apps that are going to give the consumer the ability to be able to control their delivery.”
That ethos is evident in a number of shipping experiments that the Postal Service has been trialing that could have a significant impact on the ecommerce sector.
In that category certainly fits the Postal Service’s experiment in same-day delivery, dubbed Metro Post. There are any number of limiting factors for same-day delivery, ranging from cost, logistics and geographical proximity, just to name a few. And even if demand for that service is slim today, Reblin’s job is to look forward, and he anticipates that consumer appetite for immediacy in ecommerce is only likely to grow.
“Ecommerce same-day might be small at this point in time, but there’s a reason why merchants are getting into it,” Reblin said.
“We’ve got to face the fact that the consumer’s demanding more,” he added. “You have to go where the consumer wants.”