EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2765 - March 21, 2012     2 of 4

USPS Launches New Shipping, Marketing Tools for Small Businesses

By Kenneth Corbin

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WASHINGTON - The U.S. Postal Service is rolling out new shipping and marketing offerings for small businesses, a key growth segment that the money-losing organization is targeting as part of its long-term plan to return to profitability.

Here at USPS headquarters on Tuesday, Paul Vogel, president and chief marketing and sales officer of the Postal Service, unveiled a redesigned version of the online shipping application Click-N-Ship and previewed a new version geared especially for small online sellers, as well as a new integrated marketing campaign that aims to kindle interest in targeted direct mail advertising among local brick-and-mortar businesses.

The Postal Service rolled out its online Click-N-Ship application in 2002 in a bid to offer ecommerce vendors a convenient suite of competitive shipping services. The application now tallies more than 1 million users each month, accounting for 41 million shipping transactions each year.

The Postal Service expanded the package business with the launch of its flat-rate shipping offering in 2007, and has since been promoting the product line heavily with the multichannel "If it fits, it ships" ad campaign. Vogel said that the flat-rate business was worth about $1 billion in 2008, and has since doubled.

Now, the organization is retooling its Click-N-Ship service with a bevy of new features, including a four-step progress bar to make it easier for customers to track where they are in the process of printing a label. Many of the enhancements are incremental upgrades, such as an increase in the capacity of the address book from 3,000 addresses to 5,000, a cart capacity that is doubling in size to now accommodate 20 labels, and an online refund period that has increased from 10 days to 30 days.

Other new features include the ability to save a label as a PDF and a redesigned shipping history with a default view of the preceding 30 days' worth of labels. More information about the revamped Click-N-Ship service is available here.

Additionally, for heavy sellers who are looking for a more robust online shipping option, the Postal Service is planning a "soft launch" of Click-N-Ship for Business next month.

In its first iteration, Click-N-Ship for Business will only be available as a desktop application, but new features like expanded international options will roll out over the summer months ahead of the major launch this fall, said Beth Fluto, the Postal Service's manager of digital media.

"Bottom line is I just want to emphasize how the Postal Service is really working to constantly improve our shipping solutions for our small business customers to make it easier and quicker for them to ship with the Postal Service," Fluto said.

Ecommerce a Boost to USPS
The new online shipping tools come in response to the continued ascendance of online retail, a burgeoning market segment that figures to play a key role in the Postal Service's turnaround plans.

"Ecommerce is taking off like a rocket. And as ecommerce grows, so [does] the shipping industry," Vogel said, noting that the ecommerce segment saw year-over-year growth even at the trough of the recession in 2008 and 2009, while overall shipping posted sequential declines.

"The fascinating news about this is that the USPS has continued to add value to the shipping industry and continues to grow along with the ecommerce market," Vogel said.

Shipping has indeed been a rare bright spot on the Postal Service's balance sheet of late. The organization has been hammered by steep costs associated with its labor force and sustained declines in First-Class Mail, its most profitable product, as a result of both the economic downturn and the secular shift away from paper mail in favor of electronic communication. In the first quarter of fiscal 2012, the Postal Service reported a net loss of $3.3 billion, but shipping revenues ticked up 7 percent, or $179 million, over the same quarter the previous year.

Every Door Direct Mail
The Postal Service is also going after small brick-and-mortar businesses with the full launch of a new marketing campaign promoting the Every Door Direct Mail service as an advertising channel. With Every Door Direct Mail, businesses can use a Web-based tool to build a targeted mailing list of prospective customers in a specific area

"Most importantly, it's a gateway product. It brings small businesses to the mail," Vogel said. "Every Door Direct Mail allows small business to target customers near their place of business with a free online mapping tool. There is no need for names, street addresses - they just choose the market coverage by row, by neighborhood, by ZIP code, or even by city."

Small businesses participating in the program can drop off their mailers at the local post office to be delivered for 14.5 cents apiece.

The Postal Service quietly launched Every Door Direct Mail in April 2011, and generated $153 million through December without much in the way of marketing support.

"The product actually has sold itself," Vogel said.

Now, the Postal Service is pressing ahead with an aggressive marketing campaign that will include television ads to promote the service, which is projected to become a $1 billion product by 2016.


About the author:

Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects since 2007, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.


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