Tracking USPS' slow burn: Group mail delivery?

U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Juan Padilla puts letters into a mailbox as he walks his delivery route on Dec. 5, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif.

The Postal Service isn’t getting much love these days. It lost almost $16 billion last year. When it tries to close post offices or nix Saturday delivery, all it gets is a fight from Congress. But never fear, USPS. The greeting card industry’s got your back. It’s pushing a list of more than a hundred cost-cutting measures it thinks can keep everyone -- including itself -- in business.

To really deliver a story like this, I immediately call my sources at Stationery Trends Magazine. That’s stationery with an “e” of course. Editor Sarah Schwartz says the greeting card industry has enough challenges, without all the postal woes.

There’s definitely been a rise of e-cards,” she says. “There’s definitely been the rise of facebook birthday greetings.”

And when folks do buy greeting cards, 60 percent of them still get mailed. There’s a lot at stake and that’s an invitation for concern. George White is chairman of the Greeting Card Association’s Postal Affairs Committee, the group that compiled the cost cutting measures. One of the biggest suggestions?

Postal cluster boxes.

You know, like the grouped post boxes you see outside apartment complexes. Only, all over the place.

“It obviously saves a lot of time and therefore money for the mail delivery person to be able to put all the mail in the cluster boxes rather than delivering it to each apartment door or the house door,” White says.

Savings, the group says, of some $4.5 billion annually. The greeting card lobby’s main goals are to save Saturday delivery and keep rates low.

John Callan is managing director of Ursa Major Associates, a group of postal strategy consultants. He agrees that a landscape of cluster boxes would save big bucks.

Although I think it would be quite unpopular with a lot of the general public,” he says. “Those of us who enjoy receiving our mail and parcels delivered to our households wouldn’t want to really give it up.”

But something’s probably gotta go. Whether it’s Saturday delivery, door-to-door service, or something else will be the subject of a hearing tomorrow on Capitol Hill.

UPDATE: To address the comments below, the Postal Service’s requirement to pre-pay nearly $6 billion in health benefits is a major contributor to its annual deficits, an issue we have examined in the past.  

About the author

Kate Davidson is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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