Late mail increased by 494 million pieces in the first six months of 2015, a 48% rise over the same period last year, according to a management alert released last week by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Postal Service. Due to drastic changes in service standards implemented in January, a rise in delays was expected, yet the sheer volume of lateness has big mailers concerned about the status of their fall mailings.
“The Postal Service made some massive changes with the 24-hour operational clock that has taken some time to recover from,” said Hamilton Davison, president and executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association.
Single-piece First Class Mail was eliminated in January and a significant portion of Standard Mail was shifted from a two-day to a three-day service standard. USPS backed the move in part with a 2014 survey of consumers, 80% of whom said that the change would have no effect on them or that they could adjust to the change.
Mailers agreed to adjust as well, and they expected a falloff in delivery times. What they’re more concerned about is being given ample time to adjust to them.
“At last weeks’ MTAC meeting, USPS officials explained why they feel ready to handle the busy fall mailing season with the usual level of performance,” Davison said. “But we need to have better mechanisms to understand what it is actually running rather than receiving after-the-fact reporting. Given notice, we can adjust to most anything.”
The Postal Service noted that several severe winter storms exacerbated the challenges presented by network and operational changes. Indeed, the OIG report notes that on-time delivery improved along with the weather. There were 472 million late deliveries in January 2014, 85 million in April, and only 64 million in June.
The Postal Service uses an External First Class Measurement system, which has IBM sending out test mailings and tracking them to obtain a view of delivery standards. It’s an imperfect metric, said Grayhair Software analyst Jody Berenblatt, something USPS itself recognizes. “We can have a better system when and if the Postal Regulatory Commission approves the Postal Service’s request to perform real-time measurement itself,” she said.
But bad metrics weren’t the problem in the first half of 2015, Berenblatt maintained. “I get the weather and the significant operational changes, but they said they sent out tiger teams to fix the problem, so why wasn’t it fixed?”