Uninformed Delivery: Why The Postal Email Scheme Will Fail

Of all the business myths we’ve heard, none is more pervasive than the one that says horse-drawn carriage makers could have saved themselves if they had only shifted to cars instead of trying to make better carriages.

There’s probably a grain of truth to it, but not enough to justify the repeating of this claim by tired luncheon speakers everywhere. Still, it’s worth bringing up because of a slightly cockeyed development. 

The U.S. Postal Service has — finally — decided to get into the email business. That is, it is offering to send you email with images of postal letters that arrive for you that day.

This free service, called Informed Delivery, is being derided throughout the country because it is 25 years too late. To extend the horse-and-buggy analogy, it’s as if the carriage makers turned to cars in the year 2000. 

And it’s not going to save our beleaguered postal system.

For starters, why do you need the paper letter at all when the sender can email the letter to you for free?  

The flawed thinking here is that Aunt Millie from Maine would rather tell you about her gout in a paper letter. But Aunt Millie is online, too, not only using email but also social media, according to every study of people in the upper age brackets.

And leave it to the USPS to pursue an activity without making a dime on it (unless it’s planning to charge direct mailers to copy in email what they could send by email themselves). How does it plan to pay for all this scanning?

The USPS has a government-protected monopoly on letter mail. But it tends to get bested when it faces competition, and there is plenty of that in the email realm.

But this stunt is all of a piece, for American history is rife with examples of postal tomfoolery. For example, there was a scheme to use Arabian camels in the deserts of the West. But they proved unsuitable, as they were not accustomed to our hardscrabble ground but to the soft sand of the Middle East.

Worse, most mail was dropped into the system without postage in those days: the recipient had to pay, and few did. Why would they? Some unpaid letters contained news of deaths in the family, but others were sent as jokes — the victim would pay 25 cents for an envelope full of manure.

Many small-town postmasters would let their customers read the letters for free, then take them back: That’s why the Post Office was a sieve. Informed Delivery is built on the same model. 

2 comments about "Uninformed Delivery: Why The Postal Email Scheme Will Fail".
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  1. Jeff Sawyer from GH, May 3, 2017 at 4:59 p.m.

    If you live in a rural area where mail is not delivered at home, you sometimes debate whether to walk (or drive) to the post office to check your post office box. This service would resolve that. How broad that rural demographic is, I don't know. Email me a postcard with the answer...  

  2. Roy Betts from U.S. Postal Service, May 8, 2017 at 11:31 a.m.

    Contrary to your column, Informed Delivery is all about keeping consumers INFORMED — about what’s arriving in their physical mailbox in the digital age.


    Clearly you are entitled to your opinion, but without question your opinion is in the minority. Informed Delivery is receiving positive reviews among consumers and in the media. To quote an Informed Delivery user, “It’s both informative — and fun — to preview what’s coming in the mail every day.” According to a recent survey, 91 percent of users stated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with Informed Delivery, and nine out of 10 users would recommend Informed Delivery to friends, family or colleagues.


    It’s not about Postal email, as you write, it’s about bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds to create an innovative experience for consumers and maintain the relevancy of physical mail in today’s highly digital environment.  Consumers are constantly on the go, but even while on the go or traveling, Informed Delivery provides them with the convenience of seeing what is coming to their physical mailbox — anytime, anywhere.


    So, we’re thrilled with the initial consumer reaction to Informed Delivery and – stay tuned -- more features are coming.

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