How to Transform the US Postal Service [UPDATED]

Without changing with the times, the US Post Office will continue to slide into irrelevancy and financial insolvency.

By: Simon Anderson

For the first time in almost seven years, I’m moving. I forgot what a monumental hassle it is to move. Not least among the numerous inconveniences is the process of updating every account, subscription or service with your new address. This got me thinking about ways to improve and update the  US postal service to make it more user-friendly, efficient, and relevant (for the next few year at least.) Long-term solvency is not really a possibility as we eventually move to being a paperless society.

As you have probably heard, the USPS is in big financial trouble and has been for years. Recently they announced that they will no longer be delivering mail on Saturdays (starting in August) in a desperate attempt to cut operating costs. Instead of focusing on why the post office is in the monetary fix that they’re in, I would like to propose a way to return them to relevancy by suggesting a few changes to their failing business model.

Proposal:
First, every person that receives mail will be assigned a Universal Mailing Address, or UMA. Your UMA will not change regardless of where you live, no matter what post office service area you live in. There are 315 million people in the United States so your UMA will need to be sufficiently long enough to uniquely identify you. My name is Simon Joseph Anderson, so my UMA could be something like “SJANDE42243” – a combination of letters from my name and numbers to allow for multiple people with similar names. They could also make this your username and USPS email address – “sjande42243@usps.com.” This username and email would be used to access your USPS account.

You would use your UMA any place that you are asked to provide your address, such as for credit cards, magazines that you receive physical copies of, your bank account, driver’s license, and anywhere else that you are asked to provide your address. For example, if Bank of America wanted to send me a credit card offer, they would send it to “SJANDE42243.”

Next, you would provide the post office with your Current Delivery Address (CDA) anytime you moved so they would know where to deliver your mail. This could be done online or in person. The post office would be the only place that you would need to update your address when you moved, saving a lot of time and hassle.

Except not all of your mail would get delivered to your CDA; in fact, at least initially, most of it would probably get recycled before it was even delivered. Here’s why – whenever a piece of mail has its first contact with the USPS system, it would be scanned and viewable to you online using your USPS email credentials for a secure log-in. You could then choose whether or not you wanted to receive each piece with a simple “accept or deny” action. If your CDA was in Florida and a piece of mail that you denied has its first contact in Seattle, thousands of miles of travel and additional processing and delivery could be avoided. This would dramatically lower the amount of mail that you would physically receive and the infrastructure needed by the USPS. The pieces that you don’t want delivered could be held for a few days and then recycled.

Since a large percentage of mail is junk mail, advertisers could even pay extra to just show you the digital image of a piece of mail and then only if you accept it would it be created and sent to you. This would save a significant amount of junk mail from being created in the first place. You could also mark certain senders as “spam” and auto-deny any piece from them, as well as select a sender as “auto-accept” so anything they sent would be delivered without any further action needed.

Problems and fixes:
There would be problems with this new system, but I believe they could be successfully addressed.

  • Wrong addresses – if you only need a short string of characters to identify someone’s address, wouldn’t it be easy to accidentally use one incorrect letter or number and send it to the wrong person? Given that the majority of Americans now have access to and use the Internet on a regular basis, there would be an online USPS service that would allow you to enter any UMA that you’re unsure of to verify the recipient’s picture, and current city and state. Users would be allowed to control their own publicly viewable profile, although city and state would be automatically updated whenever you changed your CMA. Your public profile could also add a link that would allow you to be safely contacted.
  • Businesses – what about businesses? Wouldn’t they still need a physical address? Business could be issued their own UMA and even unique UMA’s for different departments or employees. Or, employees could add a business CDA to their profile and senders could choose business or personal address.
  • Voting, School Districts, etc., – Many services and rights, such as voting and school districts are dependent on where you live. How would this be handled? As soon as you change your CMA with the post office, you would be sent a verification code to that new address. You simply enter the verification code into your USPS profile to prove that you live there. Your profile would indicate to interested parties that you have been verified to a specific zip code or address.

Closing:
This may all seem complicated, but think how incredibly complicated and inefficient our current system is. While what I’ve just proposed certainly isn’t a perfect solution, I believe that it would significantly simplify our lives and return the post office to relevance by moving it into the modern age. These changes would also have a huge positive impact on the environment as collectively millions of tons of mail wouldn’t travel billions of miles to be delivered, but be recycled instead at its first point of contact or not sent a all. These changes would also serve as a bridge from the world of physical paper-based mail to an inevitable digital-only future.