Dead Letter Mail: Digital Posts May Herald End to Carriers
New Zealand this week announced that it would launch a digital online postal service, or "e-post," to augment its paper service.
The paperless service uses Zumbox, a platform created by a California-based company that generates a digital mailbox for every street address in the country. No postage. No paper. And it's free to customers.
A U.S. General Accountability Office report in February advised the U.S. Postal Service to learn from foreign posts that have modernized in the face of declining mail volumes. First-class mail dropped by 19 percent over the last 10 years in the U.S. and is projected to plummet an additional 37 percent by 2020, according to the GAO.
In its study of alternative delivery methods adopted by foreign posts, including Australia, Canada and Switzerland, the GAO noted that all of the countries offered a digital alternative to paper-based mail and partnered with retail outlets such as grocery stores for parcel pickup, effectively emptying the mail carrier's bag.
Last month, the Postmaster General announced his office is investigating cost-saving digital services such as an electronic postmark system as a kind of certified email service, a secure digital mailbox service and an electronic bill payment system.
E-post might one day provide big savings, but it faces some tough obstacles.
"It will not all happen overnight,” Dennis Gilham, strategy adviser to RPost, a company that pioneered electronic mail certification, told TechNewsDaily.
"Customer acceptance will be a hurdle to overcome. It will accelerate the decrease of first-class mail, which is a significant contributor to postal revenues. If USPS acquires a tailored service offering from a technology partner, then this could be completed in 12 to 18 months."
Zumbox and other companies, including Hearst Corp., Seattle-based Doxo, inventor of the postage meter Pitney Bowes, and technology outsourcing giant Accenture, are poised to win what would be the largest mail service order on the planet. Half of the world’s mail goes through USPS, which serves 120 million American households.
Test drive a paperless future
While the government mulls its options, e-post services are available to individuals who are interested in trying a consolidated, paperless alternative to the USPS. Using a digital service will not completely eliminate your daily walk to the mailbox, but can drastically reduce its contents.
In a recent survey conducted by The Research Agency for Zumbox, 41 percent of respondents said they would opt for digital substitutes for 80 percent or more of their mail; the balance said that digital mail could replace at least 59 percent of their current USPS mail.
With a verified mailing address, Zumbox automatically matches the mail a customer receives with its database containing more than 1,300 participating providers, including major utilities, banks, airlines and credit card companies, and generates digital facsimiles of statements and other correspondence for delivery to a user's new digital mailbox.
In an effort to ease the transition from paper to digital, Zumbox creates digital replicas of the paper versions consumers already receive, including addressed envelopes, stamps and postmarks that are opened with a mouse click rather than a finger.
If you already use online bill pay, Zumbox can incorporate those providers as well in your digital mailbox. And you can still receive paper bills until you feel comfortable with the digital system.
Using an e-post service can consolidate bill paying and other important correspondence into one online location with only one password to remember. Services include bill-paying reminders and other organizational tools. Most e-post providers offer free and forever online storage. Additional documents such as tax returns , receipts and vital records can be scanned, uploaded and stored as well.
No more junk mail
Best of all, a digital post office could signal the end of junk mail. Each year, the average American adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail and will spend eight months of his or her life dealing with it, according to the nonprofit Do Not Mail.
Just last month, five U.S. cities, including Chicago and Kansas City, rolled out community programs to end unsolicited junk mail. San Francisco has banned the distribution of phone books unless specifically requested by a resident.
Because e-post systems are closed, junk mail is eliminated. For instance, only companies that have been explicitly approved by Zumbox can send mail through the Zumbox system.
"There is no junk mail in Zumbox," John Payne, Zumbox CEO and former chairman of Stamp.com, told TechNewsDaily.
In the future, though, the company will allow marketers to send promotions and special offers to consumers because one person's junk mail may be another's valuable offer.
"The key is consumer preferences," Payne said. "Those people who like marketing mail will see it and be in complete control of how it is presented and those who don't like it will not see it at all."
Is a paperless USPS around the corner?
RPost's Gilham predicts the transition from paper to digital in the U.S. will be accomplished in small steps that could take between one and five years. Many e-post services such as online bill pay and online private messaging are already available. The challenge is to get people to change longtime behavior, he said.
E-post services promise to save customers time on recurring household tasks , reduce paper waste and allow governments to post significant savings.
"If federal and government agencies opted to deliver all their mail, digitally, they would immediately slash billions in costs associated with the printing and delivery of paper mail to consumers," Zumbox's Payne said.