Thursday, February 7, 2013

Swedish grocery stores -- a potential solution to US Postal Service woes?

There was an article in The Economist about how Nordic countries may serve as the new model for other countries to follow.  It's a very good article and worth a read during your lunch break.  In more ways than one, I think the US could learn from other countries in how to approach their economic issues.

It was announced yesterday that the US Postal Service will no longer be delivering mail on Saturdays in an effort to address their financial issues (rumored to be months away from insolvency).  For the past two years, they have reduced the hours for postal office workers, cut staff and raised the price on first-class stamps.  It seems the reductions weren't enough for the agency to remain profitable and are hoping the 5-day delivery schedule will address the issues.

A NY Times/CBS News poll cites that a survey reports that 7 out of 10 Americans favor a 5-day delivery schedule if it helps address the billions of dollars of debt.  However, many small daily and weekly newspapers are delivered on Saturday and given this new delivery method, would not arrive to customers until Monday.  I'd imagine the bulk of news delivery is actually electronic and no longer in paper form to the majority of Americans so their argument is rather weak.

Sweden's postal service, Posten AB, used to be operated as a government agency.  In the 1990s it was transitioned into a government-owned limited company, however, the biggest transformation was when they abandoned public post offices in 2001.  Many Swedes complain about the change in service and maintain that it is not as reliable.  As someone who has had 2 packages "lost" in the past year, I can attest that at times, the connection between USPS and international shippers OR Posten AB and international shippers, is not reliable.

Posten AB is operated through Postal Service Points in grocery stores and gas stations.  The grocery store/gas station employees handle your mailing needs, stamps, envelopes, package drop off and pick up during their store hours.  That means you are free to drop off/pick up packages Monday-Sunday during store hours.  I cannot tell you how much more convenient this is as a customer.  It also works out well for the grocery store where I am picking up my packages -- I might just need some milk too.  Extra business for the store and I don't have to go out of my way to pick up a package.  The hassle-free factor is tremendously valuable.

While convenient for the customer, the employees must cover the post counter in addition to their other daily duties.  I've never really seen this to be a problem as they grab the person stocking shelves or from the back room.

There is still a mail truck (or bike in the city) that delivers mail and small packages (if your mailbox door is unlocked) into your mailbox directly Monday-Friday.  If you have a large package for pick up, you receive a slip with a barcode to turn into the appropriate drop-off center.  It's a system that seems to work fairly easily for all involved.

In Atlanta, I dreaded going to the post office.  I hated it.  We would always joke about which we hated more -- the post office or the DMV.  Unfortunately I had to visit the post office much more frequently. It was an additional out-of-the-way errand that I had to complete involving long lines with grumpy workers moving at a glacial pace.

So, should the US consider shutting down post offices, save for the post office boxes, and move to a point-of-service type model?  Why not?  It would probably be a more sustainable model for the agency.  It would involve many people being laid off, but not as badly as if the USPS shuts down entirely.  When looking for sustainability, one must consider all of the options.

Why keep an antiquated, costly system in place that is providing poor service when there is a feasible model for long-term sustainability?

What are your thoughts?

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