I recently had the privilege of participating in a roundtable panel discussion on the future of mail at the PostalVision 2020/5.0 Conference in Pentagon City, Virginia.
This conference drew high-level leaders from both public and private posts from around the globe. Regulators and congressional staffers also attended. The topic of our session was “E-Commerce Delivery Innovation.” Here, I shared my thoughts before discussing with executives from Keba, Swapbox and DHL Germany.
My message to guests encouraged forward-thinking for parcel handling and sorting. Despite the decline in mail volume, postal operations can leverage new technology to jump on the e-commerce bandwagon.
What Lies Ahead for the Future of Mail?
First of all, I reassured the participants that paper mail is not going away. Due to email and other communications channels, mail volume continues to decrease worldwide, but at a slower rate than previously.
Current estimates project an average annual decline between three to four percent over the next few years. However, many consumers still wish to receive their bills, statements, catalogs, etc., by mail. The U.S. Postal Service continues to process between 45 and 50 billion pieces of First Class mail every year. In fact, direct mail is rising between one and two percent every year. We are also seeing the emergence of multichannel (paper and digital) marketing.
Technology will drive the movement, increasing paper mail value by making it interactive and digital. Think of QR codes on direct mailpieces. When scanned with a mobile device, they can lead the consumer to online content. Think of advances in geofencing. These can add coupons to an envelope based on a business address and radius. These can alert route drivers of pickups/deliveries in an area by having packages glow or labels chirp.
The global economy will drive geocoding for greater delivery efficiency. Perhaps it will also drive global addressing system based on longitude and latitude. Near-field and GPS technology can lead to augmented reality. Here, scanning an address or map could guide you to your destination via an onscreen display. Other innovations include video postcards that use organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) and polymers than allow for flexible screens. Reverse envelopes – with a reverse, inverted or bottom flap – allow for additional marketing space and digital color printing.
Predictions for the Future of Mail
Regarding other trends that will affect the future of mail, I relayed my predictions that privatization of posts will continue to occur, that home delivery will change due to days of service and more cluster mailboxes, and that more homes and businesses will rent or purchase parcel lockers. I am proud to say that Bell and Howell is leading the charge of adapting technologies and processes developed for paper mail to the expanding field of e-commerce fulfilment.
We strongly advocate for increasing the value of paper mail by making it more interactive and digital-friendly. We have always been involved in customer transactions, pioneered wrapping technology, and have been at the forefront of automated document factories (ADFs). As the global mail industry continues to evolve, we are using technology to help many of our customers migrate from paper mail to e-commerce. Our products like CartonWrap, ParcelMgr and high-throughput print-and-apply labelers are already helping clients improve efficiency, save money, and reduce waste.
The proliferation of the Internet has spurred a surge in online purchases, but at the end of the day products still need to be processed and shipped. There is room for all global posts to thrive in this new reality if they make the necessary technological adaptations to accommodate e-commerce.