What’s In the Tea Leaves for USPS Fall Service Performance?

August 14, 2015

Predicting the future is always difficult, but it’s critical for marketers to be at the top of their game when interacting with consumers.

With the instantaneous feedback that digital channels provide, it’s increasingly important for offline channels to have the predictability to connect the two. USPS delivery times have been anything but predictable this year. Referencing past year’s data to predict what may occur this year hasn’t been too successful.

2015 followed a volatile 2014 – the year that brought us ‘Load Leveling’. As a review, ‘Load Leveling’ was intended to even out the amount of mail the USPS had to process each day. The goal was to spread the heavy load of weekend processing into Monday/Tuesday and also to move the heaviest delivery day from Monday into Tuesday and Wednesday. To achieve this, the USPS Service Standards for Standard Mail delivered to an SCF on Friday or Saturday changed from 3 days to 4 days in April, 2014.

Load Leveling brought big changes to in-home curves. Mailers saw less mail arrive in-home the first few days of the Service Standard, no matter what day of the week their mail delivered to the USPS. Below we have the average in-home curves for April-August, 2013 and 2014.

Day 168%69%72%71%69%
Day 287%88%89%88%88%
Day 394%95%95%94%94%
Day 496%97%97%96%96%
Day 598%99%98%98%98%
Day 153%59%60%61%50%
Day 281%84%85%85%79%
Day 391%93%93%93%90%
Day 495%96%96%96%94%
Day 598%97%98%98%98%

On average, 5% of the mail moved from ‘early’ to Day 1 and 15% shifted from Day 1 to Day 2. The amount actually in-home did not get close to what we saw in 2013 until Day 3 of the target in-home window. This became the ‘new norm’ as the USPS has never committed to a certain amount of mail delivered each day within the Service Standard.

Entering 2015, we thought we had a handle on the ‘new norm’ and could reference the previous year to help determine how mail might move, at least after April. But another change affected Standard and Periodical mail delivery times that was not anticipated – the USPS Operation Plan change.

The Operation Plan change, which took effect January 5, 2015, was meant to process mail more efficiently by combining mail classes on the same machine whenever possible. This was supposed to lower costs. The only affect anticipated by the USPS would be to First Class mail; mail for the local SCF would no longer be in-home next day unless it was received at that SCF before 8:00 am (and most locations are not open until 8:00 am).

But the Operation Plan had unanticipated consequences that continue to affect all mail today. Initially, we were told that in many locations the USPS had not scheduled transportation between facilities appropriately to handle the change in timing of the processing. This caused delays in getting mail from one location to another and therefore in-home. These transportation issues were fixed by spring, however.

We believe labor is the issue that continues to cause slower delivery times this year. Labor was not cut under the new Operation Plan, but instead was moved around. This resulted in fewer ‘career’ employees processing the mail during the peak daytime/evening hours, and more part-time/casual employees being used instead. In theory this is positive, as it means the USPS can be more nimble in the use of their labor force – adding people when volumes are higher and reducing the number when volumes are lower. However, it appears this is not yet working very well, since part-time/casual employees are not as experienced as career employees and their productivity is lower. We think this may be the reason we continued to see slower mail delivery performance this spring and summer.

Below are the average in-home curves for April-July 2015, to compare to 2014 and 2013. This shows an average of 5% less in-home ‘early’ throughout the period compared to 2014 and 10% less in-home on Day 1. When compared to 2013, this is 10% less in-home ‘early’ and 20% less in-home through Day 1. Even through Day 2 and Day 3, we are seeing curves off by 10% and 5% respectively compared to 2013. Mailers are feeling this and have no means to counter it.

Day 143%51%54%46%
Day 273%79%83%78%
Day 386%89%92%90%
Day 492%95%95%94%

The reality is that the USPS is simply processing less mail in the first few days after they receive it than they did in 2013 and 2014 – due to Load Leveling and also the Operation Plan Change. So what will this mean for USPS delivery times for Fall, 2015?

We anticipate the trend we have seen since April will continue. We’ll see an average of 5% less in-home ‘early’ and 10% less in-home through Day 1 compared to 2014. Generally, the weeks that historically have the slowest performance will be the weeks USPS performance is slowest again this year. Those are listed below, in order of severity of delays. Note that in the first four listed here, one is not significantly worse than the others. All four are very poor.

  • First week of November
  • Last week of December
  • Second week of November
  • Week after Thanksgiving
  • Week after Labor Day – but with Labor Day so late this year, delays could shift to the holiday week.
  • Last week of September
  • Week of Thanksgiving
  • Month of October

The USPS is not closing any SCFs for the rest of 2015, which should mean less volatility in any one location. Locations that are struggling now, during the summer, are the ones most likely to have issues when the fall season hits. Today those include: N Houston TX, Brooklyn NY, Queens NY, Denver CO and Cleveland OH. And of course, weather can always throw us a curve ball!