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September 1998
Vol. 1 No. 12 Page 8

Computers, E-mail, and the Postal Service - Friend or Foe?

by Joe Golonka
It is widely perceived that the increasingly widespread use of computers and electronic forms of communication such as e-mail is a serious threat to the financial well being of the United States Postal Service, and thus our own job security. A closer look at this burgeoning situation reveals evidence that the "threat" is much more of a perception than a reality.

During the 61st Biennial Convention of the NALC in Las Vegas, NV "The Postal Service in the 21st Century" a workshop by Jim Sauber, NALC economist, presented a broad overview of changes and challenges for the USPS that are occurring and will continue to unfold during the beginning of the new millennium.

One interesting part of Mr. Sauber's presentation concerned the supposed serious impact of electronic communication on mail volume and its affect on the competitive position of the USPS. E-mail has indeed already impacted first class mail volume to some extent, with persons that are sending personal messages and effecting information transfers most frequently utilizing this on-line mode of communication.

However, the future of hard copy mail is not as bleak as some have postulated. In fact, the World Wide Web and the Internet have actually helped to create a new, previously non-existent source of USPS business and subsequent revenue. A pertinent example was presented at the workshop.

Toyota Motor Company had never utilized direct mailing as a form of advertising its products. Toyota created a web page that enabled anyone visiting the site to browse their complete line of automobiles while sitting comfortably in front of a computer, instead of having to visit a dealer showroom (with the attendant hassles from sales persons, etc). Their Internet site also had a button to click on if a visitor to the site wanted more information on any of the models shown. Guess how this information was sent?

During the first few years of its existence, Toyota's Internet site received more than 7 million "hits" from potential buyers. Of these, more than 700,000 requests were made for additional information. Toyota then sent each of these potential buyers a glossy, large catalog, the same type that is found in dealer showrooms. The postage on those catalogs was a significant source of revenue for the USPS, revenue that was directly generated by the Internet.

To Toyota's delight, over 125,000 of those that received the mailed catalogs subsequently bought their products. That is an incredibly high percentage of purchases per piece mailed. Most direct mail campaigns hope to realize a 2% to 5% response to be considered successful. Toyota saw a nearly 20% response from those who received the mailed pieces.

The above example is just one aspect of the impact of the changing technology of communication that resulted in USPS revenue. The Postal Service is also experimenting with the "electronic postmark" service for e-mail that is then printed into hard copy and delivered by a letter carrier.

What's it all about? Change, pure and simple. If the USPS and its employees can successfully accept, adapt, and utilize the inevitable technological changes that are transforming the world of communication, then we can thrive well into the 21st Century - and beyond.

Joe Golonka is Vice President of Western Wayne County, Michigan Branch 2184 of the NALC. He has been a letter carrier for nearly 27 years (June 5, 1971) and an NALC member from day one. He has served as a Union official for 25 years, both as a Steward and also as Branch 2184 Vice Preseident for more than 16 years. Joe has also served as a Detroit District NALC DPS Coordinator for the past five years, and previous to this he was a member of the Detroit District TE joint task force. He also functions as a NALC legislative liaison for Michigan's 13th District. Joe received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1989, and is a volunteer severe local storm spotter (Skywarn program) for the National Weather Service.


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