Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Death of First Class Mail - That's not how any of this Works

By Mel Carriere

Maybe it's just me - I'm not an economics major after all, but I can't understand the business model behind taking a premium product, the one that brings in the largest amount of income by far, and deliberately destroying it.  Imagine, if you will, a fast food chain announcing that they are going to increase the drive-thru time so that customers will have to wait for their hamburgers longer, or Microsoft saying that they are going to create a slower operating system in order to save money.  Maybe tomorrow the GEICO lizard will declare in his odd Cockney accent that it will now take you 20 minutes instead of 15 to buy car insurance.  It's even weirder when the organization proclaims that this measure will somehow save the business.  You don't need to be a business major, and you don't need the lady on the Esurance commercial to tell you that that's not how any of this works.

I thought I was the only one to notice that first class mail really has been slowing down since January fifth of the current year, when the delivery standards were reduced from 1-2 days to 1-3 days.  I actually think 1 to 3 days is incredibly optimistic.  From personal experience, it seems like 1 to 5 days plus would be a more realistic evaluation for how first class mail has been performing since Postal Management, in its infinite wisdom, killed the one product that is barely keeping it solvent.

I have some first hand anecdotal evidence about how first class mail is doing since the change, but the anecdotes are being increasingly backed up by news that Washington is being bombarded by complaints from people who have been getting their mail on time for the last 40 years and now all of the sudden open their mailboxes not to find a check that has always been there on a particular day or not to find a bill that is way past due.

The first incident in my collection of anecdotes took place the day before the Martin Luther King holiday, when a lady on my route told me that she was missing a check from Texas that arrived like clockwork a particular day of the month.  Shortly after this my son's student loan check arrived five days late, putting him in temporary crisis mode as he fretted over how he was going to pay his rent.  Then last Monday another customer on my route, expecting still another check from Texas, was left without funds for several days by this unexpected and unanticipated delay with the mail.

I know that this is not just me and my customers that this is happening to, because lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been pushing for the Postal Service to bring first class mail standards back to where they were before these unwise changes were initiated.  Senator Jon Tester from Montana recently got up in the new Postmaster General's face and read her the riot act on behalf of his mostly rural constituents, for whom the Postal Service is not just an optional convenience, but a lifeline.

Why this penny-wise, dollar foolish policy was enacted in the first place is beyond me.  It's not like First Class Mail doesn't have any rivals anymore so we can just flaunt our monopoly in the public's face and say "screw you the check's in the mail."  It's not like competing services like the Internet, email, online bill pay, etc., don't exist.  Perhaps this move might have made sense in the days before the telegraph, which would have been about 1832, at the time when snail mail was the one and only means of communication outside of yelling across the street, yodeling across a mountain valley, or using smoke signals to tell your tribe to come on in it's time for lunch.  But nowadays, in the so-called modern era, when it seems like first class mail may be making a rebound in popularity due to the prevalence of identity theft and computer hacks, the Postal brain trust has decided to disconnect the patient from the life support machine just when the vital signs are improving.

It's mystifying to me, and the only reason to explain the decision is too horrible to contemplate, because it means that there are forces at work which conspire to bring down this fantastically reliable mail delivery system of ours.  As the lady shaking her head over the collection of photos hanging on her friends "wall" declared, "That's not how any of this works," but how many of our once faithful customers will unfriend us before the message finally sinks in, postal management swallows its unhealthy, unproductive pride, and we put things back to the way they were before.

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Read More by Mel on the Death of First Class Mail

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