USPS Concerns

By | Tuesday, April 14, 2020 Leave a Comment
Right now, a good chunk of the planet is on some version of lockdown. The coronavirus pandemic has been a major disrupter throughout the world -- the only continent so far that has not had a confirmed case of COVID-19 is Antarctica. With so many people staying in place -- whether that's via a police-enforced quarantine, or generally following WHO guidelines, or because a person has been furloughed can't afford to go anywhere -- that means delivery services are being extensively used. You might not be able to go out to get groceries, but you can have them delivered.

Here in the United States, deliveries of all sorts are primarily handled by the United States Postal Service (USPS). And there are two issues worth discussing here.

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First (and probably less well-known) is that the USPS is no longer accepting deliveries for -- as of this writing -- 66 countries. If you need to get something to one of the countries on this list your primary (and probably most affordable) option is simply gone. Now, in some cases, that's because some countries are not accepting incoming mails from other countries. Countries like Libya, Panama, Saudi Arabia, and the Cayman Islands won't accept anything from the US anyway. But in many cases, places like Cuba, Zimbabwe, Moldova, and Venezuela, the USPS isn't going there. With a few exceptions (notably India and the Congo), these aren't the most populated countries, so there's certainly less of an impact than if, say, Brazil, Mexico, and Japan were on the list, but that could obviously change.

And where this can be problematic is with creators -- whose revenue streams have had the convention circuit denied to them, and are forced to make all their income online -- who need to ship purchases internationally. What's a creator supposed to do when they get an order from Costa Rica? Or Kenya? Or South Africa?

I don't know how many more countries will be added to this list and when, but it's probably worth keeping an eye on if you do have any merchandise that might require international shipping.

The second issue is that the main source of the Postal Service's income -- first-class and marketing mail -- has largely dried up because of pandemic concerns. So estimates currently say that the USPS will be “financially illiquid” by the end of September, and the most recent bill to get more money to the post office was rejected out of hand by Trump. Letting the USPS run out of money would be disastrous for the post office itself, of course, but for creators relying on them as a means to deliver merchandise when their sole revenue stream is now remote ordering.

While some might claim that private companies like UPS and FedEx do the same thing, and could fill a void left by the USPS, that's currently not possible. In the first place, neither UPS or FedEx are designed to handle smaller items like letters. The cheapest option available for either of those services is over $10 for a single letter! That gets prohibitively expensive really quickly, as you can see!

But perhaps more significantly, both UPS and FedEx actually use USPS as part of their delivery system! Some areas are, logistically, too remote for either company to actually deliver to themselves, so they will basically only go so far as the nearest post office and let the mail carrier finish the shipment to the customer's front door. It's financially impractical for those two private companies to actually deliver to each and every house in the United States, and in the absence of the USPS, many people (particularly in rural areas) would lose access to any delivery services.

Not to mention that UPS and FedEx would need to radically upscale their entire operation to make up for the 600,000 employees currently working for the USPS. Those 600,000 people handle a LOT of mail, and shifting that workload onto their current private staff would be virtually impossible. Both UPS and FedEx would need to add 50% more workers than they have right now to make up the difference!

So even if the increased price of postage would not be a concern, and even if these "mail deserts" would be considered acceptable, there would still be huge delays as the companies ramped themselves up to handle the additional capacity. How fast do you think either company could hire and train 300,000 people? UPS touts itself as being great at logistics, but I can guarantee they'd still have trouble getting this sorted!
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