USPS Struts Its E-Commerce Stuff at Forum

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CHICAGO - The U.S. Postal Service used the Fall Postal Forum here this week to show it can meet the needs of its e-commerce customers this holiday season and is ready to take on a variety of online ventures.


A panel featuring representatives from leading online businesses, mailers and the media discussed the changing landscape of the country's businesses and the USPS' role in helping them grow. The panel included Jeff Bezos, founder/CEO of Amazon.com, Seattle; Ed Horowitz, corporate executive vice president of e-Citi at Citigroup, New York; and Tom Adams, senior director of Internet marketing and business development at eBay, San Francisco.


Bezos said e-businesses are different from traditional companies in that customer experience matters more and word of mouth has more prominence on the Internet.


"You make a customer unhappy, and they don't tell five friends, they tell 5,000 friends through things like Internet user groups, listserves and their own Web sites," he said. "But if you make them happy, they also tell 5,000 friends."


Postmaster General William J. Henderson asked the panelists how the postal service can help their companies grow. Horowitz answered by suggesting the USPS can bring the 75 percent of people who aren't on the Internet online by offering a secure message-delivery service.


"This would give the postal service an opportunity to bring the [trusted] relationship it has with its customers" to the online world, he said.


Randy Lintecum, president/CEO of First-Class bulk mailer Output Technologies, Kansas City, MO, said the USPS should help create one area on the Internet for customers to go to read their bills and statements and pay them, especially since the industry hasn't found a way to do this yet.


"I think there needs to be one national registry for consumers to come and say, 'Here are all my bills and statements, this I where I want them delivered, this is when I want them delivered and this is how I want to pay for them,'" he said.


Bezos said the postal service is already helping Amazon.com grow just by offering the services it does - delivery to all households in the United States - and its customers choose USPS' Priority Mail service 65 percent of the time.


At a press conference after the session, Bezos reiterated how important the postal service will be to his customers this fall, and he and Henderson discussed the advertising campaign for the USPS' e-Priority service, which began in August featuring Amazon.com. The online bookseller is preparing for a holiday season that is two to three times bigger than last year. It also is rolling out more than 3 million feet of distribution space around the country so it can be closer to customers.


Henderson said the USPS will be ready to handle the influx of customers.


"We go everywhere, every place, every day," he said. "Also, we view packages as a round trip, not just as a one-way. If customers want to return them if they don't like them, we are going to make that adjustment at the lowest possible cost."


As for a branding campaign, the postal service will launch a set of broadcast, print and Internet ads in a week or two. This time, the ads will focus on the money consumers save when they use Priority Mail vs. other carriers when purchasing online. The first set of ads focused on branding the Priority Mail service for e-customers.
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