For the Postal Service, can "digital" be more than a dirty word?


For the U.S. Postal Service, the words “digital” and “opportunity” are two words that don’t normally go together. After all, the mail carrier has lost billions of dollars in revenue to customers’ growing fondness for Internet bill-paying, electronic greeting cards and so forth.

Last month, however, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe announced the launch of a “digital solutions group” intended to sniff out potential money-makers in the online sphere. More recently, the USPS inspector general has singled out one in particular: Putting the agency in the digital authentication business.

You can read the IG’s full report here, but in a nutshell, the idea is to let the Postal Service verify that people and businesses are who they say they are online. Lest you start imagining Big Brother in a blue uniform, let’s note that—at least in the IG’s conception–the use of any such service would be voluntary, accompanied by “clear, comprehensive and concise” privacy guidelines.

But with the world of online commerce plagued by fraud and identity theft, the Postal Service is uniquely positioned to play a key part in the market for digital authentication services, according to  the inspector general. Not only does it enjoy a high degree of public trust, but it is legally required to protect privacy, the report says, adding that some European posts already have such ventures under way.

The report doesn’t venture even a guesstimate on much revenue this line of business could generate and notes that an in-depth legal review would have to come first. Already, the Postal Service is participating in some discussions on a White House initiative known as the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, but could play “a far more active role.”

Digital authentication is on the Postal Service’s planning horizon, spokeswoman Patricia Licata said in emailed responses to FedLine questions. Most companies, Licata added, “are still trying to find their role in the digital economy.”

More broadly, “we think there is a strong market interest for digital extensions of traditional Postal Service products and services,” Licata said, “and we are positioning ourselves to take advantage of this opportunity.”


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  1. bad, bad , bad, bad idea. first, the postal service has shown themselves to be a bunch of incompetent managers and are not fit to “manage” anything. if they are given some sort
    of monopoly to do this it is still a bad idea because in this age of online and digital theft you really need a company with competence and integrity and cutting edge technology. i think the post office isaboutas far from any of these things as one could get. second, and lastly, if the post office is not given a monopoly on such a service then the problem will take care of itself because the post office has shown repeatedly they cannot compete. remember when express mail was a big seller for the post office? along comes ups / fedex and i believe the united states postal service gets in the low single
    digit % of the overnight business. they simply can’t compete. they don’t have the brain power in management and the mentality of the managers is polluted with the
    “monopoly mentality” that likes to dictate to the customers
    exactly what kind of service they are going to get and the customer can like it or lump it! as current history shows, the customers are abandoning a company with such a vile attitude towards its customers!

  2. Conservativesrclostethomos on

    Conservative rhetoric again. The Postal Sevice’s parcel volume grew twice as fast as those competitors in the last year, It is rated number one in the world and it only has a financial problem because of a 2006 REPUBLICAN mandate to steal billions from the Service. Put that burden on UPS or Fed-Up and get back to us on how well they are doing. Conservatives preach about the Constitution but cannot accept the fact that the USPS, a Quasi Government agency is in the Constitution. Yeah, baby….its in there!

  3. Harry Whitehouse, chief development office and co-founder of Endicia, believes the Postal service should be the go deliverer for every package under five pounds “And there’s a ton of them”. Think of the advantages the post office has with mailboxes, lock boxes, central box units to deliver these small packages. Think Donohue, delivery.

  4. Many small-business owners still use the Post Office as a critical part of their marketing and communication strategy. Here are the top 10 reasons they want the USPS to survive.

    1. It’s economical. The top reason small-business owners love the USPS is that it saves them money shipping their products. Favorite features include the flat rate shipping boxes and no added charge to send items to rural areas. Brenda at Naughty and Nice Lingerie states that since her products are relatively lightweight, none of the other shipping companies can beat the USPS shipping costs.

    2. It works. With so much e-mail clogging up inboxes, many small businesses have gone back to direct mail model as a more successful way to reach customers and prospects. According to Keri Smyth of CarrotNewYork, “The postal service has been an integral part of how we reach teachers through an opt in postcard.”

    3. It’s classy. An e-mail thank you is nice, but many small-business owners rely on handwritten mailed notes to their customers. Christian T. Russell sees this as an important part of his “high-touch marketing.” He says that he has “found that very strategic, small scale use of handwritten notes can offer a tremendous return on investment.”

    4. Paper still matters. For small businesses, this is still a world filled with paper. As Shilonda Downing, founder of Virtual Work Team, says, “While my business is virtual, clients who aren’t in my locale need to mail documents they want processed for bookkeeping and other things.”

    5. Media mail. Although it takes longer than regular parcel shipments, the USPS gives special low rates to books and other types of media. Jamie at Sisters Grimm Bookstore says she would drastically have to increase her shipping prices if she was forced to use another method.

    6. It offers business addresses. The P.O. box is critical for many people with home-based businesses. For example, it lets Paula Pant, owner of Cleopatra Properties, receive mail without disclosing her home address. Ironically, it also provides the required physical address needed by law on any e-mail mass-marketing communication.

    7. It’s relatively safe. The Web is still riddled with security risks. As one commercial for USPS states, letters have the added security of never getting a virus.

    8. No one else can transfer the dearly departed. USPS is the only way to send cremated remains. Aura Neisius, at the Santa Rosa Mortuary, says without the Post Office, their business would be literally “dying.”

    9. It’s how they get paid. Most of the accounts receivable small businesses collect are still “checks in the mail.” Even some electronic payments made by customers actually become mailed checks from the customer’s bank.

    10. It builds community. There is still a great historical attachment to the post office especially in small towns since no other organization ships to every single address in the country. It has always been a local gathering place for residents. Small-business owners also point out the helpful knowledge of the postal workers. For Joan McCoy, of Little One Books, it’s about tradition. “My grandmother always had a treat for the postman who delivered mail to her door every day. My mother still waits patiently for mail delivery so she can spend time going through the things people sent her.”

  5. As for the comments made by wakeupamerica, you have no idea of what cutting edge technology the Postal Serivice has or is capable of. And as far as comparing the Postal Service to FedEX and UPS. There overnight service should be good because that is the only service they have to concentrate on, PARCELS. I would be great also if that is ALL I had to deliver, duhhh. The Postal Service delivers mail, parcels, overnight deliver, advertisements, PO boxes to every address in the US….who else on this earth delivers mail. Once you tell me whom else delivers ALL of these service other than the Postal Service, then we can do the comparison.

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