|Please, Mr. Postman, look and see,|
Are there some groceries in a tote for me?
“All Customized Delivery items will be transported directly to a customer’s door and will be delivered [between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.] without disturbing the recipient,” USPS revealed to the PRC. “Customized Delivery also will allow recipients to provide specific delivery instructions.”
Back door man
“Carriers would need to go to each delivery door and manage customer specific delivery instructions.” To avoid theft of the early-morning deliveries, such “special delivery instructions” could conceivably include placing the special grocery-filled totes at back doors, in hallways, into parked cars, or even behind bushes. Undeliverable totes would be returned to the shipper.
“Participants will pay a fee for the Customized Delivery Service,” USPS wrote. UPS is reportedly close to rolling out a service that, for a $5 fee or a $40 annual membership, would deliver someone’s packages to a nearby store instead of to the home.
The Postal Service has recently been encouraged to enter a wide variety of new ventures, most notably providing banking services to the poor and to rural residents. But postal executives’ new-revenue plans are all focused on leveraging the agency’s massive, every-address delivery network: not only by serving the grocery business but also with Sunday deliveries for Amazon, aggressive price cuts on lightweight packages sent by large mailers, and seeking legislative approval to deliver wine and beer.
All of those growth efforts are far more labor intensive – and higher priced – than USPS’s traditional job of delivering letters. The Postal Service is also adding thousands of new delivery points every day, requiring more travel time for carriers even if mail volumes don't grow. So it's premature to assume that letter carriers will soon go the way of buggy-whip makers.
To gain the PRC’s approval for its proposed two-year “Customized Delivery” market test of grocery delivery, USPS must show that the venture would not disrupt existing markets or rely on “unfair” competitive advantages over private businesses.
Starting later this month, USPS wants “to test and develop a long-term, scalable solution to enable expansion of customized delivery to additional major metropolitan markets across the nation.” It might also test other delivery times during the day.
“The Postal Service will negotiate price with each customer [presumably the grocer, not the consumer], in part, based on the pickup schedules specific to each customer.” USPS also hopes the test will determine “the optimal pricing structure for this type of service.”
San Francisco test
The agency recently conducted a smaller-scale test of grocery delivery in the San Francisco area. City carrier assistants – non-career postal employees – delivered about 160 totes per day to 38 ZIP codes, according to postal officials.
“In the current process,” USPS told the PRC, “the retailer brings groceries already packed into retailer-branded totes, some of which are chilled or include freezer packs, directly into Postal Service destination delivery units (DDUs) between 1:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m."
“The totes are all the same size and color, and have a QR code on the outside. The Postal Service receives a manifest file from the retailer containing the address and QR code number for each tote. This file is used by the Postal Service to dynamically route totes and create a line of travel for each route.”
“These deliveries are unattended — the CCA will not ring the doorbell or knock on the door. The carrier places the totes in a location designated by the consumer for delivery.
“Totes are scanned [sometimes with an iPhone] at key steps in the process to provide tracking and visibility through to delivery. CCAs wear postal uniforms and lighted caps as a safety measure and for easy recognition by the public.”
[Editor’s note: Perhaps such lighted caps should also be provided to carriers who have to make normal deliveries after sunset during the winter months.]