Live from the Industry/USPS Flats Summit: Don’t Worry About Conforming, USPS Reps Say

Washington–Like other U.S. Postal Service representatives, vice president product development Nick Barranca echoed the agency’s sentiment that there’s no specific goal of mailpiece conform. But he cautioned during his presentation at the July 16 Industry/U.S. Postal Service Flats Summit in Washington that “we have to ask are the costs, design, and value implications” involved in the flats strategy. “We can’t just ignore the cost side of the equation.”

Echoing his Postal Service headquarters brethren, USPS executive vice president/chief operating officer Patrick Donahoe said that “flat mail is a growth area—we’re not going to stand in the way of that” by forcing flats catalogers and other bulk mailers to change the shape of their mail to conform to postal machinery. And addressing one mailer’s concern that the agency has stated that the future of flats will be based on whatever size pieces postal machines can process, USPS senior vice president, operations John Rapp said that “we’re not defining the future of flats as only mail that will fit on our AFSM 100 flat sorters. We’d like to go beyond that,” he said.

In addressing what the USPS would like to do with flats down the road, “we’ve not made decisions,” said senior vice president, chief marketing officer Anita Bizzotto during her presentation. “We’re talking somewhat theoretically on where the opportunities are, what we need to change, and where we’re going, and we’ll be talking with the mailing community as we go through this. It’s going to take years, not days, for some sort of flats solution.”

Like other USPS representatives at the meeting, Bizzotto sought to put mailers’ concerns to rest about mail shape and size standardization being a byproduct of the agency’s flats plan. “We want to build [flats automation] equipment that handles everything as opposed to being limiting,” she said. “Might we see some changes” to mailpiece design? “Sure, but we don’t know at this point.”

None of the speakers during the summit got into pricing specifics. But even though postal rates are going to remain intact through 2006, thanks to a law passed earlier this year allowing for the redistribution of postal retirement revenue, the long-term rate stability of flats delivery is of chief concern to mailers who closely monitor postal developments. While no mailers or postal executives could specify how much postage for catalogs could rise down the road, Bizzotto spoke of the need to take costs out of the flats system, much as it has with automated letter delivery.

“We can’t talk at this point how much [the USPS flats strategy] might impact price,” Bizzotto said. “It’s way too soon. But when we take costs out of the system, that translates to rates as low as they can be. One thing’s for sure: None of our strategies envision any reduction in service levels.”

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