Postal’s progress

WHEN I FIRST HEARD THAT the U.S. Postal Service was launching a summer program offering mailers a discount for using QR codes, I was more than a little skeptical. Why would the USPS care about mailers using QR codes? And would a 3% discount for using the two-dimensional mobile barcodes between July 1 and Aug. 31 motivate mailers enough to implement the codes?

As it turns out, it would. While the Postal Service did not have hard results as of press time, it says the promotion beat its expectations. (See article on page 7).

I saw the codes popping up on all types of catalogs mailed this summer. To be sure, not all the catalogers who participated in the program nailed the their QR codes. Some clearly rushed implementation for the postage savings.

As we noted in Tim Parry’s Aug. 22 article “Are QR Codes on Catalogs Cutting It?,” some mailers didn’t bother to explain what the code was, or why it was there or how to read it. Many didn’t include a backup URL in case there’s an error when the user scanned it, and in some cases, the QR codes directed to a site that could not be rendered on a mobile device.

This type of QR code execution isn’t going to do much for bridging the gap between the print and mobile web channel, or for cultivating m-commerce.

Some mailers who may have missed the mark with their mobile barcodes were unapologetic. Said one commenter on the article: “I will take the 3% in this tough economy without creating a mobile-friendly site.”

(Fair enough, though you might want to start working on a mobile-friendly site just the same.)

On the up side, the QR code program (like the USPS’s summer mail sales of 2009 and 2010) shows that catalogers are eager to participate in any initiative that lowers postage costs. If the Postal Service makes it more affordable, catalogers will put more books in the mail.

It also indicates that the USPS is trying to think of creative ways to stimulate mailings, while acknowledging that catalogers today use their books to drive customers online.

I don’t praise the Postal Service too often (okay, ever), but, good job. I just hope this new thinking isn’t too little too late — especially after Postmaster General Donahoe’s grim testimony last month before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs about the USPS’s future viability.

Not that Donahoe said anything most of us didn’t already know, but it was still sobering to hear that the USPS will not survive without immediate legislation.

And given all the uproar some politicians have made over the proposal for five-day postal delivery, or even efforts to close post offices, the radical changes the USPS needs will be a tough sell.