When you think of ecommerce, what’s the first name that comes to mind? You probably immediately said “Amazon,” which is a good answer, but this is a trick question. The real biggest name in ecommerce is actually the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Last year, American consumers spent more than $453 billion online shopping, a 16% increase over 2016. That’s a lot of packages—and the USPS delivered most of them.

“The Internet has taken away some business with the presentment and payment of bills,” says Jim Cochrane, the USPS’ Chief Customer and Marketing Officer, speaking with WHOSAY President Rob Gregory during an event at the ANA Masters of Marketing. “But shipping is up by double digits over the last five years and we’re the largest ecommerce delivery company in the world. It’s a good reinvention of the brand.”

Informed delivery and the omnichannel future of the USPS

Digital transformation works differently for the USPS than it does for a consumer brand like Dunkin’ Donuts or Clorox. For one, it’s not so much a brand, as it as a 243-year-old government agency. (By the way, the first postmaster general was Benjamin Franklin, in case HQ Trivia asks.) And on top of that, the USPS’ customer base is a broad group that encompasses literally everyone.

In a way, that gives the organization a bit of leverage. It doesn’t really have to evolve; what are you going to do, stop getting mail? Still, the USPS is embracing innovation, particularly with regard to “informed delivery.”

“Everything that’s going to be in your mailbox will be on your phone in the morning,” explains Cochrane. “You’ll have the ability to interact off those pieces and launch a buying experience or a learning experience. That’s a good piece of our mobile strategy that really complements digital.”

Once signed up, consumers can preview grayscale images of envelopes, track packages and schedule deliveries. This can all be done either within an app or dashboard on the USPS website.

Though it’s not available in every ZIP code just yet, the program is definitely an early success. According to Cochrane, more than three-quarters of members open their email from the USPS every day.

USPS Informed Delivery

“Not too many people are hitting 75 to 80% open rates,” he says. “That’s going to be great for marketers or anyone that’s trying to get a story told. You get the physical piece of mail and now there’s also the ability to link it to a digital experience.”

Moving toward digital, but not at the expense of direct

Though the USPS is moving toward digital, that’s not to say it’s moving away from direct mail. According to the Data & Marketing Association’s 2017 Response Rate Report, direct mail’s household response rate is 5.1%; the combined total for email, paid search, display ads and social media is 0.62%.

DMA-Response rate by channel

In fact, given the volume of email out there—269 billion emails are sent every single day, per the Radicati Group—and the number of distractions online, it’s probably easier to catch a consumer’s attention with direct mail.

But of course, people expect personalization, no matter the channel. And savvy brands are already using online data to enhance their mailbox marketing.

“If you abandon a shopping cart online, we’re knocking on your door with a related mail piece,” says Cochrane. “The difference is, you touch your mail. You rifle through it and think, ‘Wow, I was just looking at this the other day.’ Mail will dip a little bit in volume, but it will come out with much stronger ROI.”

The DMA also found that the median ROI for direct mail is 29%. That’s lower than email and social media (by a hair), but higher than paid search and display ads.

DMA-Median ROI by channel

Cochrane notes one automaker that created a piece of mail that allowed consumers to feel and smell the grain of leather from the car’s interior. If you’re in the market for a new car, part of the shopping experience is now in your hand.

Looking ahead

Like every other brand (or government agency, whichever) that’s surviving and thriving in 2018, the USPS is fully embracing an omnichannel future. Cochrane recognizes the importance of providing seamless digital experiences, though not at the expense of physical delivery.

Does that mean that he sees a combination of the two—drones—in the USPS’ future?

“Of course,” says Cochrane. “We deliver with snowmobiles in Alaska, we deliver with boats on the lake in the Midwest and we take a mule train to the bottom of the Grand Canyon every week. Drones might solve some of those problems. That, or mulechain.”

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