Live from the Industry/USPS Flats Summit: Catalog Printer Offers Alternative

Washington–During the July 16 Industry/U.S. Postal Service Flats Summit in Washington, most of the focus of the program centered on the USPS’s flats strategy, currently in a research and design phase. But Anita Pursley, vice president, postal affairs, for catalog printer Quebecor World Logistics devoted her session to more immediate alternatives for the automation of flats—including most catalogs. USPS executive vice president/chief operating officer Pat Donahoe “says the USPS is all ears, open to anything on this, so I propose an alternative strategy,” Pursley said. “I haven’t heard anyone express concern over the near-term; it’s the long-term Delivery Point Packaging strategy that causes the industry some concern.”

The motivating driver behind the USPS’s delivery vision for flats is savings at the mail carrier level, Pursley pointed out. “The idea is to eliminate labor-intensive carrier casing [sortation],” she said. “But is there anything the industry can do to eliminate carrier costs?”

Pursley’s alternative strategy emphasizes the USPS creating more incentives to change mailer mailing behavior. “Cost-based rates and drop-ship incentives are good examples, because they reduce mail processing and carrier costs,” she said.

Whereas the USPS currently receives a significant portion of catalog mail in sacks rather than more efficient five-digit-presorted pallets, “what if the Postal Service were to receive all five-digit pallets? And what if those pieces were carrier route walk-sequenced co-mailed bundles entered in destination delivery units? It could create a similar impact in cost savings without having to go the DPP route,” she said.

To do this, the USPS would have to establish a correlation between the costs of a service and rates paid. It would then need to adjust mail preparation and mail flow to drive costs out of the system, Pursley pointed out. “Considering that 40% of mail processing costs are in bundle and container handling, the savings potential is huge,” she said. “It would promote efficiency and worksharing, and is all about incentives.”

The USPS isn’t investing heavily enough in copalletization now, Pursley said. “There’s no incentive,” she said. “The USPS needs to give incentives to vendors to invest in more mail equipment and reduce costs for all flat mail.” Incentives should also come at the carrier level. After all, Pursley said, “carriers are ‘rewarded’ with more mail when they delivery the mail more quickly; and they’re rewarded with overtime when they’re slower. So we need to look at those costs.”

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