Delivery Point Packaging was of keen interest to the U.S. Postal Service and those attending the spring Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting. Since then, the silence on the subject has been deafening.
The idea behind the DPP concept is to have all mail going to a given location delivered in one banded or packaged ensemble. New packaging equipment the USPS wants to install in postal facilities nationwide will assemble the mail automatically. Letter carriers would be freed of this time-consuming pre-delivery process. Less time spent in the post office back room means more time for delivery.
With labor representing more than 75 percent of the postal service’s operating expense, this leap in efficiency would make headway into its ongoing cost-containment goal. That’s good news for the mail industry because it is another advancement in stabilizing postage rates.
So what’s the big concern rumbling among some consumer mailers? Fear of the unknown is one way to state it, but that’s to trivialize the matter. The bottom line is concern for the bottom line: response rates. How will bundling of all classes of mail into a band or polybag affect consumer response?
To answer this legitimate concern, the USPS has embarked on what it says is its most extensive research project ever. The objectives are to assess consumer attitudes, reactions and effect on basic behavior as well as perception of the postal service. This aims to determine consumers’ reaction to the DPP option and their perception of the USPS if mail is delivered in this way, as well as what differences are uncovered in how they sort, handle and read the mail. Credit is given to postal officials for this research initiative. One could argue that they needn’t undertake the effort, simply having consumers and businesses accept a packaging change over time.
An independent research company is tasked with collecting, interpreting and summarizing the data. The research is a two-stage study designed to capture qualitative and quantitative mail recipient information. The studies are national projections based on balanced geography, demographic characteristics and type of mail receptacle (i.e., curb box, door slot, apartment center, P.O. box). The qualitative phase was completed earlier this year and the quantitative phase is scheduled for this fall.
As the objectives state, the USPS expects to determine mail recipient reactions to mail delivered in sealed clear or opaque plastic bags or glue wrap-around binders compared with the present loose method of delivery. Tied to those assessments will be their perception of the postal service itself. Obviously, concern exists for the brand image, which is appropriate and will have bearing on the decision making.
But what about response rates? The research drives toward defining consumer reaction, but will these studies produce definitive conclusions on response rates? Will clear polybagged mail improve response rates? Will coated polybagged or glue wrap-around banded mail alter response rates? If so, how? That element of uncertainty is of great concern to mailers. Direct mail is a powerful medium that generates response often more timely and greater than all other media. Mailers don’t want the USPS to tinker with and possibly jeopardize what works, that is, what’s used to build their business.
The researchers say measurement of consumer behavior is key to the USPS. How consumers respond will be transparent to how they will act toward any delivery modification. Their conclusion is that response rates will correspond to the value perception of the delivery modification. No change in value perception, no change in response rates.
This brings us back to the postal service’s silence. It appears this is partly because it’s between research phases. The qualitative phase, reported to MTAC in May, was, at best, general in nature and evidence of need for the quantitative research. Accepting the relationship between response rates and delivery value perception for the moment, what happens if the results are ambiguous, if distinct acceptance for change isn’t there?
Though the USPS doesn’t plan to field test response rates for each of the three delivery options, it’s conceivable this could change if the final results fail to yield a clear answer to this matter. Also, the postal service has kept industry apprised of its findings and is on record to maintain that policy.