U.S. Post Office - Wicomico, VA by Carmen Shields

The End Of Week 1: How Would You Change The Postal Service?

The first week of Month of Letters is now over and we have a day of rest! Unless you, like me, plan to at least write a letter today even if you can’t send it until tomorrow. I’m busy getting through all of my postcards, which meant a trip to the post office yesterday for more odd denominations of stamps.

U.S. Post Office - Wicomico, VA by Carmen Shields
Not the post office I went to! This photo is by Carmen Shields. U.S. Post Office – Wicomico, VA from Flickr

This recent postal experience was quite pleasant. But not too long ago on a Saturday I went to my local post office to buy some stamps and mail some letters. I took one step in, saw the long line, and walked right the heck back out.

This is a pretty typical interaction between me and that post office. It’s constantly understaffed, the lines are often long, and now it has very inconvenient hours (which is why everyone crowds in there on a Saturday). I know there many reasons for this, and most of them are not the fault of the people working at my local branch. Still, it’s frustrating.

In some ways the US Postal Service is remarkable and awesome. Even efficient. It’s the other stuff I find maddening. And in all the talk about how to fix the USPS or trim it down or make it profitable or whatever the latest drama is, I rarely see any practical, useful ideas offered up to eliminate postal pain points.

For instance, I’m a big fan of being able to purchase postage online. I do it often when sending a package, and it’s a simple process via the USPS website and even gets me a small discount. Why, then, can’t I buy a stamp just as easily? I can buy sheets of stamps, of course, and get them delivered. But buying a single stamp for a letter requires going to Stamps.com, which is not owned by the USPS, and signing up for a monthly service. That solution is great for businesses, but not for someone who sends letters occasionally.

As I said, it’s seemingly small pain points like this that get to me. Why, in an age where this kind of thing should be convenient and simple, are things complex?

Last year I caught an episode of the Freakonomics podcast where the hosts talked about some other ways the USPS might improve based on ideas from listeners. One thing Stephen Levitt points out is that big, lumbering organizations like the post office are harder to change than nimble startups. Seems to me the USPS could benefit from at least some start-up mental juice. The last time any of that kind of mindset got near them the Postmaster General shut it down with extreme prejudice and for no good reason. More recently I’ve seen reports that the USPS is considering the addition of banking services in order to make some money. It could work, if done right.

If something dramatic happened and you were suddenly asked to offer some out-of-the-box ideas for how to make the USPS better, what would they be? What the the pain points you’d like to see alleviated? Are there things postal services in other countries do that we should be doing?

21 thoughts on “[Wayback Repost] Why do letters seem more daunting than email?”

  1. Having been a letter writer for several years now, I don’t particularly find this challenge all that difficult, other than remembering to do it every day instead of when the whim takes me to write. And since I may not have a penpal’s letter to answer, then I need to think outside my normal circle of penpals and write to others. I saw this as an opportunity to reconnect with a few old penpals that had lapsed, family members that live outside of the city, friends I haven’t seen in a while, and strangers or persons of stature. I think it’s a great challenge and maybe it will even boost the joy of those who process all this mail and deliver it to us. 🙂

  2. I love your post. And I totally agree.

    Email, tweets n twitters, FB comments all have their place and moment in time where they are the appropriate way to respond.

    However, sending a letter, postcard, or notecard is the only way to connect with someone on a more personal, even intimate, level.

    The act of sending a missive does take time, but more importantly it takes thought. What paper will I use? What will I add (stickers, washi, etc.)? What will I say? Combined these choices will be a bright spot in someone’s day. Added bonus? It was created specifically for them.

  3. Great article on postcard apps but you should also take a look at Postsnap’s easy to use postcard app.
    The app offers a number of unique features compared to the other apps reviewed including:
    – Guest checkout with Apple Pay
    – Extensive personalization options including collage layouts, stylish borders which can be adjusted in size with a slider and the option to add editable text in a variety of font types and colors and position it anywhere on the cards
    – iPhone and iPad support
    – Apple Pencil support
    – Facebook and Instagram integration
    – US postal address verification and UK postcode lookup
    Cards are printed and posted in our facilities in the UK, USA and Australia on the same or next working day and so cards typically arrive quickly. Enjoy!
    Stephen Homer

  4. I have been writing letters for several years now. My go to paper is Rhodia Premium or Rhodia Ice pads. I also Life pads too. I like them because they are not quite as slick as the Rhodia.

  5. I love Tomoe River paper for letter writing. I buy 100 sheets at a time and print my own mermaid stationery. I found an envelope that I like and ordered a mermaid address stamp and finish it off with mermaid washi tape.

  6. I too love journals to pull apart for writing. For me the most important aspect of the paper is the pattern. I love to have some colour and some design on the paper. I’ve managed to find a number of nice colours and designs at one of my local “Home Sense” discount stores in the book section. Most of the small journals are a perfect size to fit in the envelopes I use. If not I just give one edge a bit of a trim (but sometimes I really like the ripped edge look too!) ;P

  7. Hi, Christmas cards & more recently a letter (a bill) from the UK to Australia have taken 3 weeks to arrive. The exterior of these envelopes were stamped with a mark such as this from the latest envelope:
    DLC 992-4
    The example quoted arrived at the Australian address on 28/07/2017, unfortunately it contained a bill dated 06/07/2017 which had to be paid within 14 days, by 20/07/2017.
    Why is the post so slow? What does the DLC 992-4 stamp signify? Would appreciate your feedback.

  8. My letter that I wrote was in September. The person who it was for still hasn’t gotten it and it’s now November….
    I don’t understand why it’s taking this long. I live in AZ and he lives in NY. I want answers.

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