Fall 2016 USPS Outlook

September 26, 2016

When considering how the USPS may move mail during the fall mailing season, the first factor to consider is how it has been performing, year-to-date. Generally, USPS service is much improved in 2016 as compared to the previous two years. If you recall, 2014 was marked by the effects of Load Leveling, which changed the way the USPS moved the mail through processing and resulted in some different in-home curves than we had been seeing since 2012. Operation Plan Change in 2015 caused delays throughout the first half of the year and made planning for fall 2015 very difficult. Since January this year, we have seen much more consistent delivery week-to-week and facility-to-facility. We have not had any facility on our list of poor performers for more than two weeks in a row since late April.

The tables below show the average in-home curves for January through August. On average, we had 5% more in-home early during that period this year than in 2015. Through Day 1 of the target in-home window, 10% more mail was in-home this year as compared to last. This is a significant change – and one we expect to see continue through the fall season.

Day 143%40%35%40%48%49%42%46%
Day 272%71%68%70%77%81%74%75%
Day 387%86%85%85%88%92%87%86%
Day 493%91%91%90%92%94%91%90%
Day 595%94%92%92%94%94%95%95%
Day 153%51%48%47%56%57%56%50%
Day 280%81%78%77%82%83%82%78%
Day 390%90%89%88%91%91%91%88%
Day 495%94%92%92%94%94%95%91%
Day 598%97%95%96%98%98%98%97%

The average in-home curves for fall 2015 are shown in the table below. If we assume that we’ll continue to see the trend noted above – with 5% more in-home early this fall and 10% more in-home through Day 1 – we should have a very good fall; not quite what we had in 2012, but close.

Day 140%45%34%43%
Day 268%75%65%73%
Day 384%87%83%86%
Day 491%90%88%91%
Day 595%95%95%95%

More important than ”good” delivery (meaning quicker) is CONSISTENT delivery. That is also something we’re seeing this year. Barring any unforeseen weather issues, we expect some of that will continue into fall. But the fall season is always impacted by volume. As catalog volume increases, the USPS is bound to slow down.

This is a list of the weeks that are traditionally the slowest of the year. They are listed in order of severity of delays. Note that during the first four, performance is usually about the same – one is not significantly worse than the others, but all are very poor.

  1. First week of November
  2. Last week of December
  3. Second week of November
  4. Week after Thanksgiving
  5. Last week of September
  6. Week of Thanksgiving
  7. October in general

The USPS suspended SCF closures in 2015 and has no plans to close any facilities this year, which will also help with consistency.

As mentioned above, we have not seen consistently poor delivery out of any specific USPS facility since January, so we can not anticipate which SCFs or NDCs may suffer the most when volume starts to increase. Last year, SCFs in North Houston, Texas; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Queens, N.Y.; Denver, Colo.; and Cleveland, Ohio had the greatest challenges. But things have changed and we cannot expect the same to be true in the coming months.

Finally, what affect the election may have on delivery performance is a common question among mailers. Read How Will the Presidential Election Affect Mail? for more about this issue. In general, we have found that catalog volume has such a significant impact on USPS processing that any additional volume of political mail is not detectable.

How does the USPS believe it is positioned for the fall season? Robert Cintron, USPS VP of Operations, held an online presentation earlier this month to address this question. In summary, the response was that they are well positioned, having made many improvements over the past year. Specifically, the fact that the USPS has more visibility into how the mail is moving was mentioned as a key reason for the improvements. The USPS feels that visibility makes it very ready to handle the mail volume we will all be sending through the system in the next three months.