Postal Service Pushes the Envelope, Then Folds

The U.S. Postal Service tried to push the envelope. Then it folded.

Postal officials, seeking savings to reduce losses that totaled $2.8 billion last year, proposed moving the transparent window on business envelopes a fraction of an inch higher and to the right to improve mail handling.

They also said Jan. 22 that they were considering requiring commercial mailers to reduce static cling so letters won’t stick together. The agency separately revealed that it was in such bad financial shape that mail deliveries may have to be reduced to five days a week from six.

The outrage was immediate — about the envelopes and static cling.

Printers, envelope makers, mailers, paper companies and big mail users such as banks and insurance companies, which generate much of the 212 billion pieces of mail the post office delivers each year, called the changes badly timed, unnecessary and too expensive.

The agency can’t afford to anger its most important customers. Six days after suggesting the changes, the service moved faster than Priority Mail to retreat.

It put out an advisory saying, “We are changing the proposed static charge” standards “from a requirement to a recommendation.”

As for shifting the windows, the Postal Service said it would work with envelope manufacturers and mailers to gradually change the design.

“Something we thought was a minor tweak was a big problem for the industry,” said Sharon Daniel, manager of mailing standards for the U.S. Postal Service. “We heard the outcry and we will work on this more.”

The Window

The window on most business-size envelopes is 7/8 of an inch from the left and a half-inch from the bottom. The Postal Service said shifting it to one inch from the left and three-quarters of an inch from the bottom would reduce envelope tears and speed processing.

The post office didn’t include an analysis of how much it would cost business to comply or its own potential savings from smoother mail-handling. It wanted to implement the envelope and static cling changes in May.

Envelope makers were concerned their customers would have to reprogram the printed material that goes into the envelopes so the address would be displayed properly. Frustrating mailers with such increased costs might encourage them to abandon the Postal Service and try to reach more of their customers with online billing services and advertising.

‘Billions of Envelopes’

“On the surface, the change looks innocuous, but you have billions of envelopes stored in inventory,” said Maynard Benjamin, president and chief executive officer of the Envelope Manufacturers Association in Alexandria, Virginia. “It’s the Postal Service forcing a cost on them.”

The reaction of the mailing industry ranged from polite opposition to derision.

“These types of rules are borderline ridiculous and mostly unenforceable,” Lisa Bowes, the manager of account services for the mail service company Intelisent in Newington, Connecticut, wrote on a company blog.

Dead Tree Edition, another blog frequented by the mailing industry, said, “Here’s a better idea for the Postal Service: Figure out how to harness some of that static electricity and use it to power a few gray cells in the brain-dead bureaucrats who drafted this proposal without considering the impact on postal customers.”

Pitney Bowes Inc., the world’s largest mailing technology company, told the Postal Service the proposal was problematic.

‘Cost of Compliance’

“We objected to the cost of compliance, the effect on management of current inventory, how it limits marketing messages, and the time frame,” said John Campos, vice president of postal relations for the Stamford, Connecticut-based company.

Those complaining scratched their heads, wondering just how they would measure cling, or even understand the new engineering standard. They suggested the Postal Service turn to its own engineers to figure that out. Finally, there was criticism of a May deadline.

“This is yet another example of the Postal Service’s lack of concern about explaining what adjustments are absolutely necessary to improve the cost-efficiency of postal operations with a clear eye on how it affects its customers,” said Gene Del Polito, president of the Association for Postal Commerce in Arlington, Virginia. “To proceed as they proposed would have hastened the flight of mail from the Postal Service.”

The Postal Service still is pursuing the plan to reduce the six-days-a-week delivery schedule, which Postmaster General John Potter announced Jan. 28. The proposals on window envelopes and static cling seem to be dead letters for now.

“Bravo,” said Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association in Washington. “We were very pleased to see they pulled it back.”

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