Could the Post Office Pivot?


Imagining what might happen if entrepreneurs were in charge of those friendly folks in blue outfits…


You know the joke: How did the Post Office fire 20,000 people? By email, of course.

The real joke is that the Post Office itself was fired by the Internet.

So what if the Post Office had embraced it – becoming the servant of the Internet instead of its victim?

Empty: Post Office

Empty: Post Office (Photo credit: moriza)

Naturally, they argue their $15B annual losses and the disappearance of Saturday deliveries have little to do with the Internet. It is Congress’ fault for hobbling them with a $5 billion annual pension prepay.

Yet, if they had embraced the Internet, their customers might actually have cared enough to go after Congress on their behalf. That’s what social media does for you, Mr. Postmaster – a public who cares could organize itself so that Congress would have remove the mandate or get voted of office. But why should we care that much?

So let’s imagine for a minute that the Post Office wasn’t a quasi-government institution with Federal powers and huge real estate holdings, that also works as a public service with a protected job reservoir and has Congress as its piggy bank.

Let’s imagine it was taken over by a bunch of entrepreneurs who weren’t hobbled by politics or patronage and who would fully embrace the Internet Age rather than dabble around the edges.

I’ll start with funny since that often produces the best ideas. (And please – I welcome your suggestions!)

They could do what the MTA did and put a Starbucks in every Post Office so that customers could enjoy a Mail Latte. (Bad pun – but improving performance through universal mail tracking would be a good start.)

More importantly, they would have made a lot of deals. They would have done what RPost does – certified emails. That would soon spread to certified documents and an entire business in maintaining and serving them. Think of the Post Office as Fort Knox of our valuable docs. (Since no one has reported actually seeing gold in Fort Knox lately, there may be room.)

Strategically, the Post Office threw their lot in with the kind of mail we really don’t want – junk mail – and turned their backs on the stuff we do want – delivered stuff from the Internet.

They could also have been an enabler of online bill paying, even doing the bill handing from the postal center. They could even have started their own junk-free email service. A paid channel for email that guarantees authenticity so you don’t have to worry if you a being phished.

Or they could have turned your cheapskate eCards into printed and delivered physical cards for a fee of say, $5 – or less. Or your Facebook pictures into next day delivery photobooks.

Perhaps they could have turned each Post Office into a local logistics center where relatively low cost area business deliveries could take place. Anything from your local online purchases – and returns – to prescriptions, dietary supplies, newspapers, milk, artisanal bread, your laundry and other essential or finer goods of life. Dropped off first thing in the morning and delivered to you home during the day. Or just held at the PO for you.


If I were a politician – and this is the bigger issue – I would see the Post Office for what it really is – a proxy for Government-backed agencies in the Internet age. In other words, they are an index of how government can or cannot cope in this new age. If they don’t find a new model for running it – it is not the Post Office that is going the way of the Dodo: it’s the current two-party system that runs government that may be on the extinction list.

Both the Post Office and the political system are relics of the Industrial Age, where they served either big labor or big business. So cutting back is really not a strategy – it will only spur more people to think of more alternatives to the Post Office. Their real future lies in reinventing themselves.

So, what do you think they should do?

Back in the early days of the Internet, when Yahoo was just taking off, a certain startup made the case for the end of the Post Office as part of their pitch. It was one of the first arguments we saw for Internet disruption. At the time, Amazon hadn’t made a dent in the Bookstore Business. Emails were still a trickle. The entrepreneur said the Post Office had billions tied up in trucks, warehouses, sorting machines, delivery people and office clerks and all could be eliminated by email.

His company made an email server.

He was dead right but his timing was off by about 18 years. The Post Office didn’t stop – in some ways, they grew because their early technology lead enabled vast amounts of junk mail. In other words, they figured out how to make a better buggy whip and sold more of them. They introduced tons of technology – sorting machines with artificial intelligence, for example – but mostly, better ways of mastering of junk mail, better bar codes, Zip Plus, a national database of addresses.

But they were never willing to challenge their own function and invest in where the business would be. In other words, they went with improvements and refused to disrupt themselves. So the internet did it for them.

While they went into a long decline.

But they have Federal powers: they get free parking anywhere, no tickets, no towing.   Worst case – they could license that right to really rich people. That would be illegal, of course.

Unless those people took a job with the Post Office.

Reprinted by permission.

About the author: Alan Brody

Alan Brody is the founder of the iBreakfast.com and SAVVE – Silicon Alley Vision Venture for Executives – brainstorming events. As executive program director of TECHmarketing, he has a long history of creating firsts in high technology media events which now includes eTV World the Digital TV/Internet Conference and Hollyweb, a major conference event at both the Consumer Electronics Show and the National Association of Broadcasters.

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