The U.S. Postal Service is ready to handle an expected increase in volume during the fall season due to a rebounding economy and improvements to its own processes and those of mailers, a postal official said.
“The system is running well right now, and we do not anticipate any problems,” said Paul Vogel, vice president of network operations management at the USPS. “We are predicting right now that there is going to be a 2 percent increase [in] Standard Mail volume this season over last year. This is primarily driven by the improvements in the economy.”
He attributed the expected increase to people starting to spend “and the advertisers realize that, and they need to give their products visibility.”
The postal service's peak week for Standard Mail generally is the last week of October or first week of November when it delivers the most catalogs and ad mail in preparation for the holidays.
The USPS also is meeting most of its in-home delivery dates, Vogel said.
One reason for the agency's improved performance this year is that more businesses are using printers, consolidators and other USPS partners to prepare mail and receive drop-ship discounts. Most of the advertising mail comes in already sorted, Vogel said, often down to the carrier route. In addition, mailers have better address hygiene, which helps mail processing.
“The consolidators are doing a better job, the printing houses are doing a better job, the list processors are doing a better job,” Vogel said. “We've seen an improvement this year over last year, and last year there was an improvement over the year before.”
The improvements, Vogel said, have been driven by the weak economy of the past few years.
“I think that one thing that happens in a bad economy is that people have to figure out how to do the job better, and I think we are seeing the benefits of that,” he said.
For mail that is not presorted, the USPS is relying heavily on 529 automated flat-sorting machines, also known as AFSM 100s.
During last year's busy fall season, the USPS “was at the tail end of the deployment of these machines, so people may not have been as proficient with using them,” Vogel said. “But this year, we have a full year experience under our belt.”
The USPS will not hire extra help this year. Vogel said the USPS rarely adds seasonal employees anymore. The agency, in general, is cutting back on employees, eliminating more than 25,000 jobs over the past year.
The USPS is also prepared for the 10 to 12 days before Christmas — its busiest holiday period, Vogel said.
For example, the postal service plans to reduce the expensive Christmas network contracts it awards to cargo carriers. Instead, it will send more of its holiday volume to FedEx and United Parcel Service. Both are less expensive than cargo carriers, Vogel said. The postal service expects to use 10 planes from cargo carriers this year, down from 120 two years ago and 80 last year.
The USPS also is increasing its ground network, Vogel said, with mail riding longer distances on trucks this year. In general, the USPS uses its air network for Priority Mail, Express Mail and Military Mail. The ground network is mainly for Standard and parcel post.
Finally, the USPS said it expects holiday volume to be about the same as last year.