The U.S Postal Service is hurting. The agency lost $2.8 billion last year and in the first quarter of its current fiscal year saw a decline in mail volume of 5.2 billion pieces, compared to the same period last year, according to the Associated Press. To cuts costs, it is offering early retirement to 150,000 employees, in addition to other measures, such as re-drawing mail routes to conserve gas.
Meanwhile, two startups, Earth Class Mail and Zumbox, are looking to reinvent the conventional postal system in ways that will drastically reduce paper consumption and, if hand-delivered mails drop significantly, fuel consumption.
Earth Class Mail started in 2004 has set up nearly 25 retail locations around the country. Customers use the address of one of those locations as their mailing address. The snail mail is received there, where Earth Class Mail scans the envelope and sends its image to the customer’s secure online inbox. The customer can decide to have each piece of mail opened and its contents scanned (to be read online), or they can choose to have the mail recycled, shredded, archived, or forwarded to another location. The customer does all of this online – which makes it extra useful for frequent travelers.
Businesses can also use the Earth Class Mail service to send electronic mail to Earth Class Mail customers, thereby saving on printing and delivery costs.
Earth Class Mail also licenses its technology platform, and recently signed a major deal recently with Swiss Post’s new online postal-mail division, Swiss Post Box. Swiss Post will use the service to provide mail delivery (for a fee) in Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein.
According to Forbes, Earth Class Mail has nearly 30,000 customers in 175 countries. And while it’s not yet announced profitability, it has raised $21 million in funding.
Zumbox launched last year and takes a different approach. Instead of intercepting real mail and turning it electronic, it has created a nationwide paperless postal system, wherein it assigned each valid US address a corresponding (and secure) web page. Senders use the service to send mail – anything from a personal message to a mass mailing for a commercial purpose – electronically. The service is free to consumers, but businesses pay a fee (except for qualified mail such as bills or transactional statements).
But the USPS isn’t the group of Luddites it may appear to be, sitting on the sideline while others swoop in and change the face of mail service. The agency introduced electronic services way back in the 1990s, and it even proposed a solution to Congress that would have married psychical mail addresses with electronic ones. But demand was too soft, and then the Internet bubble burst and the agency turned its attention back to snail mail.
Given its current woes, perhaps the USPS should dust off its old electronic mail plans. What do you think?