Postal Service Two Days Late in Delivering Fall Mail as Problems Persist

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Standard-A mailers and mailing houses using the U.S. Postal Service's fall mail delivery program last week reported less-than-favorable results for the season so far.


Mail is arriving in homes at least two days after it was intended to, while last year's mail was only one day late, said large printers and mail fulfillment companies that deliver catalogs and Standard-A mailpieces for their customers across the country. In a few cases, delivery is being delayed as much as 10 days. Cities reportedly experiencing the worst delays are Atlanta, Detroit, New York and San Francisco because they have the greatest volume and the oldest facilities.


"Our early seed reports show some slippage in delivery in the in-home window," said Joe Schick, director of postal affairs at Quad/Graphics, West Allis, WI.


There are a variety of reasons for the problems, mailers said, and they aren't all the USPS' fault. The postal service is seeing an increase in mail volume this year - 7 percent to 10 percent - even though mailers originally said they were going to mail less. Some had their own internal mail delivery problems. And Hurricane Floyd is still having an impact because mailing equipment is still backed up throughout the entire mail transport chain. Some mailers also put the blame on the USPS and its fall mailing plans, which included hiring 19,000 supplemental employees and migrating its drop-ship appointment system to the Web to make it easier for bulk mailers to schedule appointments. Those plans weren't up to par with last year's program.


Indeed, the USPS instituted an exemplary program in 1998 that was designed to make up for the problems it had in 1997 when mail arrived three to five days late.


This year's program was pared down because of budget cuts and because "the USPS thought they spent more money than was necessary in 1998, since mailers said there was going to be a volume increase of 15 percent and we came in at 7 1/2 [percent]," said Rick Kropski, vice president of logistics at printer Perry Judd's, Waterloo, WI. "This year, the USPS was saying, 'Mailers said they expect an increase of 10 percent, so we'll probably get 5 percent.' As a result, they cut back to match that."


USPS officials admitted that there may be minor problems in specific areas but that the problem is certainly not epidemic.


"We've had some weather-related problems in the South. We've got some problems out West because of some power problems, and there are some plants that are not operating as well as they did last year. But there doesn't seem to be any major [problems] going on," said Nick Barranca, vice president of operations planning at the USPS.


While Barranca couldn't site any specific numbers, the fall mailing program is similar to last year's, including the fact that the same amount of extra employees are being used. Mailers aren't concerned that the delays will affect sales yet, but call-center staffing is another issue.


"All you can do is be wary of the delays, so you can staff your call centers properly," Kropski said. "Don't expect mail to arrive on specific days, but think of it as arriving more stretched out over time."


In general, mailers should just be aware of the glitches.


"We are looking at this as a sort of red light, watching and monitoring the situation very closely to see if it becomes a more persistent problem or just a problem in a particular month or at a particular facility," said Anita Pursley, vice president of postal affairs at Quebecor World, Norcross, GA.
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