The U.S. Postal Service is holding a series of focus groups and interviews to gauge interest in its Delivery Point Packaging initiative, one of two programs the agency is considering for flats.
DPP would sort letters and flats into delivery order simultaneously, then bundle them into individual delivery packages. The other proposed program, the Flats Sequencing System, would sort magazines, catalogs and other flats into delivery order but would not bundle them with letters.
The decision to proceed with one or both initiatives likely will be made in 2004. If approved, FSS will be targeted for initial deployment in 2006 and DPP in 2007.
Though the technology is not yet available, the USPS is working on prototypes of DPP sorting machines with manufacturers.
It is also looking at various containers or packages that would hold the mail, said George Hurst, manager, product management, flats, including a plastic bag, rubber band, belly bag or paper sleeve, folder around the mail, and a folder that is closed on two sides.
The USPS last month began a series of 16 focus groups with consumers and four with businesses to test mockups of these containers. Focus groups took place in Chicago and Dallas last month with others set for San Francisco and Bethesda, MD, later this year. Results will be compiled by the end of the year.
Focus group participants have expressed mixed feelings. Positive responses included that mail in pouches could be stored easily until the consumer can get to it and is protected against the elements.
Consumers also said that individual bundles would be more convenient if someone collects mail for them while they are on vacation because the consumer could see “what came when, because the mail would come in individual bags, clumped together,” Hurst said.
Some negative responses involved safety, including “what if my dog chews on this and swallows it, or what if my child puts it on his head,” Hurst said. Members also were concerned about environmental issues, such as using plastic versus cardboard or something recyclable.
Some direct marketers have been concerned that having mail in a pouch would make it easy to throw away. Instead of going through the mail and reading the direct mail pieces, for example, they could just dump the mail package into the garbage.
But Hurst said this did not come up in the focus groups and that DMers should not be concerned because the consumer “does not know exactly what is in that bag. You might have First-Class mail, you might have personal correspondence.”