Can US Postal Go from Zero to Hero?

Rishi Rawat Blog Posts 11 Comments

They say never try and out Amazon Amazon. This might be an exception to that rule.

For those who hate video and prefer reading:

Backstory

I should start by saying that this basic idea is not mine, it comes from Scott Galloway, who is a futurist for all things Amazon. Scott has predicted pretty much all Amazon moves over the last couple of years. In a podcast interview Scott shared a brilliant Amazon prediction.

Amazon Prime

His idea was that 60% of U.S. households have Amazon Prime and Prime customers don’t use any other service. Why should they? They get two-day free shipping. He felt that Amazon could actually take this to the next level where instead of going to Amazon’s website, buying a product, and having it shipped, Amazon could just send stuff to your home.

Amazon already knows a lot about us. They know exactly what I’m looking at, what I’m thinking about, adjacent products that I might be interested in. His idea was that Amazon is going to start a service where they will essentially ship out a box to customers every month. In the box, there’s going to be a random bunch of items. Amazon is going to say, “Look at what’s here. Play with it, and if you like it, keep it. Whatever you don’t like, just return it. Someones going to pick up the box next week. Your next box comes next month.”

Amazon is going to completely remove the friction from the buying process. Because they know what people want, they will send different items to each person receiving it. I think this is a totally brilliant idea.

Enter USPS

Couldn’t USPS beat Amazon?

They already send a truck to my home every single day and deliver spam, which I don’t even care about. But they have a built-in infrastructure. I know they’re struggling right now. USPS, which is dying right now, couldn’t they turn this around and make this a winning concept and completely upend Amazon?

The idea

The U.S. Postal Service should start this product. What they do is essentially skip Amazon and go to other retailers. There are tons of retailers. Toys R Us is dead, but there are other retailers that are really, really suffering, Nordstrom is suffering, Macy’s is suffering, all these retailers are suffering. USPS can go to them and they can say,

“Hey, look. You know what?” We’re going to create a service where we will select the retailers and the brands that we like and we will send it to customers.”

Once a week, we receive a box.

Not just me, every U.S. household. Of course, it only happens to people who sign up for the service. It’s a free service and that’s the best part. Here’s how it works. Now how does the U.S. Postal Service know what products I’ll be most interested in?

New site

The idea is they create a website called USPS My Products. You go to the website, and it’s basically a questionnaire. They ask a bunch of questions. It’s basically like a product service matchmaking service. They’ll ask me, are you a technology geek? What’s your age? What’s your education level? What do you do for a living? They can ask like 10,000 questions. From that, they can build a consumer profile. As I said, this is opt-in, so not everybody has to participate. People who are scared and freak out about this stuff don’t have to participate.

What happens is at the end of that process, they essentially build a taste profile. Then once a week, maybe once a day, they send you stuff. It’s a totally free service.

Next

Based on your profile, you get products. What I might receive would be completely different than what YOU will receive. For example, if I’m a technology geek they might send me a new webcam. They could send me a new cellphone. If they know I’m a big runner they can send me a brand new running shoe.

Like the product? Keep it. Don’t? Send it back. They essentially make an affiliated fee. So I keep the shoes, then, of course, they charge me. They have my credit card on file. So they charge me for anything that didn’t come back in their return box. They charge me an affiliated fee. They charge me the fee and the retailer pays the affiliated fee.

How retailers benefit

This will allow companies like Best Buy to actually reduce their store even more so they are essentially transferring their cost from their physical stores to U.S. Postal Service, which is a win-win. U.S. Postal Service needs the money as well. They already have trucks going out every single day. They already have hundreds of thousands of employees. The consumers win because now the consumer has a choice. They can really play this against Amazon because there’s a lot of negative PR around Amazon. Amazon is essentially a monopoly and a lot of people don’t like that and they can be the un-Amazon, right? They can come to us and say, “We’re USPS, the alternative to Amazon.”

Anyway, the point is that this is an idea I just had and I think this is an opportunity for USPS to out Amazon Amazon. If any of you knows anyone in U.S. Postal Service, I would love to pitch this idea to them.

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Comments 11

  1. Not a fan of your idea, Rishi. In my mind, the role of the government is to provide infrastructure, and level the playing field where necessary so that us businesses can grow. Collecting data, and selecting business for benefiting from it (best buy v staples) is already halfway down a slippery slope.
    Offering easy return service so that other companies can compete with Amazon would be reasonable or even dismantling Amazon so that other businesses can compete effectively would make sense.
    I liked the way you encapsulated the post office’s problem by pointing out they come to my house everyday to deliver spam.
    The other problem I see is even though the new post office will guarantee not to sell your data, it’s the government, they can change the laws, they can do anything in the name of National Security if they legislate lt.

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      Hi, Mark. Appreciate your input. The post office already makes a profit on retailer deliveries (at least, they should). This idea just takes that concept further. Right now they are running huge overall losses. Those losses are footed by taxpayers.

      Mark: The other problem I see is even though the new post office will guarantee not to sell your data, it’s the government, they can change the laws, they can do anything in the name of National Security if they legislate lt.
      Rishi: True.

  2. I agree with Mark, and will go further.

    1. The post office quite literally refuses to take our scheduled pickups and forces us to take everything to the post office multiple times per week, and has done so for the past 7 plus years in spite of consistent complaints and calls to postal managers. Postal employees do not want to deliver bulky or heavy boxes and hate them and do everything to discourage picking them up and delivering them. Perhaps you’ve gotten a “delivery slip” instead of an actual delivery before, forcing you to drive in and get the package that they never even attempted to deliver in the first place, which is the same problem from the recipient’s perspective.

    2. What many people allow a private company to know about them is not the same as what they want a service related to the government to know about them.

    3. The real reason the post office is broke is because of pension obligations, and adding a new service doesn’t change this.

    I cannot describe adequately in words how much contempt I feel for the post office, having attempted for years to give them a lot of money to send my packages under 3 pounds and getting stymied at every turn.

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  3. Just as easy to complain about long lines and grouchy people at the DMV, idiot senators & congresspersons, power-hungry policemen, and potholes in Boston. Government inefficiency and waste are an unavoidable by-product. Think it’s bad here? You should see it in other countries where you add in sanctioned corruption, overpopulation, and, in many cases, the type of bottom-of-the-barrel intelligence that takes a government job.
    But they are separate issues. Idiots at the post office are dealt with through the systems designed around that. Ineffective HR systems ultimately come down to elected officials make to feel that in order to get re-elected they need to clean things up. Failing that, the free market will compete with the government service like UPS did with the Post Office, ultimately putting it in the dire straits it’s in.

    This issue, rather, is about the optimal role of the post office. That role needs to be of value to the community — and filling your mailbox with spam is not. The postal system is like a roadway — and indeed I think our country was built on this original information highway. It should facilitate a smooth pipeline into and out of your home or office. How business uses that roadway is up to them. Whether the roadway is needed is up to us.

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      Love reading your perspective on this, Mark.

      I don’t know what legal charter of Post Office is. But if it’s to make a profit, then, as CEO, I’d do everything in my power to out Amazon Amazon.

  4. I see it differently. It’s the same misconception that got a “businessman” elected. A business exists for the benefit of the shareholders. It’s mandate is to make money for the owners of the business… Ideally while doing something good. A government exists for the benefit of the citizens. When a government makes a profit it’s like giving yourself a transfusion with a leaky hose.

    It’s like this money that we’re all getting that “we don’t have to pay back…” OF COURSE we have to pay it back! Where do you think it comes from? Our future tax revenues — there is no place else.

    Government-as-a-business means that the government is run for the benefit of the “stakeholders,” the people who fund elections, legislators, large businesses. It runs as nicely as any other business that exploits workers for the benefit of the owners. In a balanced system, it is government’s role to keep the exploitation of workers and natural resources to a minimum and create the infrastructure for growth.

    ARRGH! You got me on my soapbox again. I have work to do. Oh wait…

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      Mark: It’s like this money that we’re all getting that “we don’t have to pay back…” OF COURSE we have to pay it back! Where do you think it comes from? Our future tax revenues — there is no place else.
      Rishi: This is true.

      Mark: Government-as-a-business means that the government is run for the benefit of the “stakeholders,” the people who fund elections, legislators, large businesses. It runs as nicely as any other business that exploits workers for the benefit of the owners.
      Rishi: This is true, too.

      Mark: In a balanced system, it is government’s role to keep the exploitation of workers and natural resources to a minimum and create the infrastructure for growth.
      Rishi: Dammit, this is also true.

      Mark, prior to 7 am Eastern you make some really good points 🙂

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  5. It is certainly fun to think about this stuff.

    My former company had a formal relationship with USPS. We negotiated a certain kind of test program and I got to understand better what goes on at USPS at the higher levels when someone comes in with a new idea.

    In the course of those conversations I learned that USPS tested a program like the one you are describing with some major retailers about 20 years ago. The retailers were shouldering the costs. It got done but was hard for USPS because of union rules about what letter carriers can/cannot be asked to deliver.

    The question that came to mind for me when I read your article is “Why don’t you (Rishi) do it?” USPS will partner with you if it sounds right to them. They can do the leg work and you can own the brand. Of course I realize it might be intended only as a thought exercise.

    Jerry

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