USPS targets online shipping market

The U.S. Postal Service has launched a campaign aimed at capturing more of the package business generated by the growth of online shopping.

The campaign, which includes new services offered on the World Wide Web, is focused on USPS' Priority Mail service and involves the release of technologies developed by USPS that companies can use to enhance their Web sites, USPS officials said at a press briefing last month.

The technologies are included in a new toolkit available at the Priority Mail Web site ( and were designed for Web developers looking to create information services related to package delivery for online retailers' Web sites.

The toolkits include application program interfaces (API) that developers need to create features that ultimately make retailers' sites more useful and help the retailers build stronger relationships with their customers, said Karla Humphrey-Briggs, program leader for the Priority Mail Web site.

"What we've heard from our major mailers is they want customers to know [that] when they come [to their site], they have a convenience," Humphrey-Briggs said.

With the APIs, which can be downloaded from the Priority Mail Web site, online retailers can create access to information such as a shipping rate calculator, merchandise return labels and the ability to track a package and confirm that it was delivered.

The return label is especially important for mailers and USPS because of the high rate of returns of goods bought online. According to some findings, an estimated 25 percent of the products bought during last year's Christmas holidays were returned, Humphrey-Briggs said. The Postal Service's offer "is a real simple way for the consumer and the online provider to really get some good service online," she said.

It also may help online retailers draw customers back to their Web sites. In the case of the return labels, for example, they already are available by fax or sometimes included with the merchandise, but if customers have to go to the site to retrieve the labels, it means more traffic at the site, Humphrey-Briggs said.

The Postal Service estimated that it currently has about a one-third share of all electronic commerce shipping but said its full potential is not yet realized and that it hopes to take business away from competitors United Parcel Service of America Inc. and Federal Express Corp.

Jim Lucier, an analyst at Prudential Securities Inc., said recent USPS business plans have emphasized the potential online retailing offers for increased package delivery.

The Postal Service is three to four years behind the curve, but the new Priority Mail campaign, which includes television and newspaper ads, shows it is beginning to catch up, Lucier said, adding that offering APIs to Web developers is consistent with other things USPS is doing to try to increase its presence on the Web.


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