2016 Mail Delivery Performance Review and What 2017 May Bring

March 24, 2017

2016 was generally a good year for USPS delivery of Standard Mail. Last September I reviewed USPS performance through August, comparing it to the same period in 2015. I found that, on average, 5% more mail was in-home early during that timeframe in 2016 and 10% more was in-home through Day One of client’s target in-home windows. I expected to see that trend continue throughout the fall season.

Below is a comparison of the average in-home curves during the fall season in 2015 vs 2016. The September and November results for 2016 were much improved over 2015, with 5% more in-home early and 10% more in-home through Day One of our customer’s target in-home windows. While the October results were very close for both years, fall 2016 was an improvement over the previous year.

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%
Day 150%48%43%60%
Day 280%77%73%86%
Day 391%89%87%93%
Day 496%93%94%95%
Day 598%96%96%97%

I expected that we would see the slowest delivery following the typical pattern (shown here in order of severity):

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

In 2016, mail moved at its slowest rate during the second week of October and the second week of November. The first week of November actually performed fairly well averaging 15% in-home early and 70% in-home through Day Two. The last week of December mail flew through the USPS. Usually we don’t expect to see much mail processed on Christmas Eve, but this year they moved more on that day and the days leading up to the holiday, boosting the amount in-home early to about 30% for most mailers.

The rest of the fall season saw pretty consistent delivery – the most consistent we’ve seen since 2013. Consistency is usually more desirable than early delivery, so mailers can plan and adjust distribution schedules to meet USPS performance.

In September, I couldn’t predict which postal facilities might face the most challenges during the fall season. We had not seen consistently poor delivery anywhere from January through August 2016.  In the end, the MI Metroplex facility (Pontiac MI) stood out as having the most delayed mail from October to early January 2017. The USPS did not share details with us as to why this facility struggled so much, but after many conversations on the issue, we were left with the understanding that the mail was simply not being processed as it should have been and that volume was higher than they expected. Note that this facility did not absorb any additional mail volume from 2015 to 2016.

Few other facilities struggled until November. For most of November, we saw delays out of many FSS facilities. This has occurred the last few years – the FSS facilities (and FSS mail delivered to SCFs) simply cannot handle the increased volume for the set list of zips that they need to process on these machines.  The USPS recognizes this and is looking at ways to increase or decrease the zips run on FSS machines as volume ebbs and flows. There will be many challenges if they choose to attempt that, but the current situation is not good either.  By the end of November, 75% of the facilities with FSS machines were averaging less than 70% in-home by Service Standard – most averaged less than 50% by Service Standard. Nearly all of these had poor delivery for 3-5 weeks. Nearly all were moving mail at a ‘good’ pace by mid-December.

USPS performance in January of 2017 has proven to be very good.  Below is a comparison of the in-home curves for January 2016 and January 2017. On average, we are seeing 5% more in-home Early and almost 10% more in-home through Day One. Usually, January and February are somewhat volatile months for mail delivery – we usually see improvement, then slowing, then improvement and slowing again. This year, we are seeing consistently good delivery and have no reason to believe it will not continue.

Day 150%59%
Day 278%83%
Day 389%91%
Day 494%94%

Looking forward to the summer and fall, at this point, we expect mail delivery to be better than that of 2016. I would estimate 5-10% more to be in-home early and through Days One and Two over the same weeks in 2016.

Some factors that could cause a change in USPS performance:

  • SCF closures: The USPS has not announced any for 2017.
  • Redirections: These are changes in where mail is being processed, even though a facility hasn’t technically closed. These should be minimal, but we’ll have to monitor them as they occur.
  • Changes in the processing of FSS mail: If the USPS attempts to change the zips that will run on the FSS based on volume, we may see more delays as mailers will struggle to try to adjust presorted mail in time for the change at the USPS. They simply will not be able to do this, as mail is produced sometimes weeks before the USPS receives it. This could cause a great deal of chaos and delays at the FSS machines.
  • Labor: No changes are anticipated, but if labor changes occur they would affect performance.
  • Weather: The always unpredictable weather can and does have an affect sporadically. Large hurricanes can cause issues in a region that may last for weeks or months.
  • Volume: Although Standard Mail and Periodical Mail volume is expected to remain fairly steady, changes in volume always affect USPS processing times.

In summary, we do not expect any of the above factors to play a big part in USPS performance this year. Based on the first 4-6 weeks of 2017, the USPS looks poised to perform very well.