This article originally appeared in Morning Consult on June 5, 2019.
There is a severe problem with leadership at the U.S. Postal Service as the agency’s fiscal cracks grow wider by the day. In the second quarter of 2019, the USPS reported net losses of $2.1 billion and declining revenues nearly across the board. The one bright spot is shipping and packaging volume (up .3 percent compared to the same quarter last year), but “competitive products” revenue from items such as packages don’t nearly make up for the gargantuan drop in regular mail volume. This “bright spot” may actually exacerbate USPS’ problems unless they lift the veil of secrecy of pricing and make the rates more realistic.
To ramp up revenue per package, the agency will be charging more for larger-sized Priority Mail packages starting this month. But, if the USPS wants to improve their finances, they’ll need to cut down on the sweetheart deals with large companies instead of homing in on Priority Mail (mainly smaller clients). The beleaguered agency can get its finances back in order, but only by clamping down on classified deals that defy all logic.
As packages grow larger, more truck space and manpower are needed to keep deliveries moving and consumers satisfied. To cash in on these monster packages, the USPS will implement a new system in June where Priority Mail packages over a cubic foot will be priced based on their dimensions regardless of destination. Currently, dimensions are only taken into account if packages are shipped over long distances (i.e. New York to California). Additionally, the same dimensions will now result in higher weight assignment, and thus higher prices across the board. The USPS hopes that putting its packages on a diet will free up valuable truck space and/or fill depleted postal coffers.
But this “dieting” approach is akin to cutting out one Hershey’s bar a day while continuing to eat double cheeseburgers with extra-large sodas and fries. The lion’s share of package losses stem from private, secretive agreements with manufacturers and e-commerce giants. These sweetheart deals have companies scoring postage rates at about 60 percent of what ordinary consumers would pay via Priority Mail.
There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with e-commerce behemoths enjoying low postage prices in exchange for guaranteeing a huge chunk of business for the USPS. Buying postage in bulk isn’t much different than buying cheap mac and cheese in bulk from Costco. But offering these discounts only makes sense if there’s sound accounting in place to make sure that these agreements are covering costs. That is almost certainly not the case.