It's a new world for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). A world where, despite the costs and bureaucracy and work rules of being a government agency, they are giving the shipping industry, particularly the big names like Fedex and UPS, a run for their money. Sure, they're still losing money in a world that sends more emails and less letters. But the postal service is quickly adapting to this new world.
In just the past year, the USPS has started delivering on Sundays. It has partnered with Amazon.com AMZN -1.42%. It cut its rates for online stores. This is not a government agency that's rolling over and looking for a handout. This is an agency that is aggressively trying to reinvent itself, stay competitive and give the private a sector a competitive service without costing taxpayers more.
Starting today, the USPS takes another step in the right direction. And if your business relies on shipping parcels it affects you. That's because, effective today, your costs of shipping may be going up. But not if you're paying attention. According to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) if you want to continue to take advantage of commercial mailing rates, you must now be meeting all IMpb (Intelligent Mail Package Barcode) requirements. The transition period, which began a year ago, is now officially over.
What does this mean? It means that if you're in the business of shipping lots of products you need to be using IMpb. The intelligent barcode will offer three key benefits for your business: For starters, it provides an end to end tracking service where packages will be scanned up to eleven times, making it easier to get tracking information for both companies and customers and improving the USPS's customer service. The service will also offer free insurance without having to go to the post office to buy it. Most importantly, customers who use the service will have the ability save five to fifty percent on postage, as compared to typical commercial rates and depending on their packages' weight, class and distance. The only hitch: to qualify, the USPS will require all parcels to include the new unique tracking IMpb barcode. And to access these IMpb-enabled services and qualify for the most favorable price structure for parcels, you will need to use a computer or web-based shipping solution.
But there are solutions. One of them is from Pitney Bowes PBI +0.33% (Author Note: I have received no compensation from Pitney Bowes to write this piece). The global shipping company's offerings, such as their pbSmartPostage and SendSuite Live products, now has the capability to produce IMpb labels with the proper barcode and send all necessary shipping information to the USPS (Pitney Bowes also provides a great summary of the new IMpb rules here).
""Both small and medium sized businesses should consider the U.S. Postal Service as part of their parcel carrier mix."" says Patrick Brand, a senior Vice President with Pitney Bowes.""The USPS has made a significant investment and commitment over the past several years to enhance its parcel shipping service offerings and implement new technologies to provide more competitive service options.""
Yes, it's another headache. But then again change is never easy. And let's give credit where credit is due: at the very least, the USPS is one government agency that is working hard to not be like a government agency. I'm sure Fedex, UPS and other shippers will continue to do what they need to compete. And all of that is good for the customer, particular business owners.
Besides Forbes, Gene Marks writes daily for The Washington Post.