USPS preps more e-commerce

The U.S. Postal Service is getting ready to announce two more e-commerce ventures, and postal competitors are preparing their stamp of disapproval.

One online offering, USPS Send Money, would enable customers to send money electronically to anyone with an e-mail address. It is the electronic equivalent of sending a Postal Service money order, the mail agency says.

The other, Pay@Delivery, enables people who buy items over the Internet — through online auctions, for example — to pay for goods, but have the money held by the Postal Service until the merchandise is delivered via Priority Mail.

As with other electronic endeavors, the two new online services are part of the financially faltering Postal Service's effort to create new revenue sources. The Postal Service projects a $2.4 billion deficit this year.

But companies already offering similar e-commerce services decry USPS' plans as unfair competition unlikely to rescue the ailing agency.

"There is no justification" for the Postal Service to enter the electronic money-order business, said Jason Mahler, vice president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association. Plenty of commercial companies already provide that service, and it is unfair for a government agency that does not pay taxes and is exempt from some regulations to compete against them, he said.

Selling paper money orders is justified, as there may not be many banks or other financial institutions in some locations where there are post offices, Mahler said. But the same logic does not apply on the Internet. Commercial money-order companies are just as available online as the Postal Service would be, he said.

Mahler said he objects less to Pay@Delivery, although that type of service also is offered by companies. However, it sounds similar to "collect on delivery" service that the Postal Service has long offered, he said.

According to the Cato Institute, a think tank that advocates smaller government, the Postal Service's attempts to generate new revenue by offering e-commerce and electronic services face another problem: Such ventures often lose money.

The General Accounting Office reported to Congress this summer that USPS has had "historical difficulty in making profits from its new products," including services such as electronic bill paying.

GAO said the board of governors that oversees Postal Service operations "may wish to look at the service's policies and practices for determining when the service should enter into new ventures, and when such ventures should be discontinued."

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