Set it and forget it
In this period of economic revitalization, many businesses are in fast-growth mode. Focused on developing new products and markets while expanding their geographic footprints, the last thing they’re thinking about is the mail center
But they should be. By automating and coordinating mailing processes and parcel shipping across their organization, companies can increase labor efficiency, reduce unnecessary expenses and even make their clients happier.
“People in an organization don’t start the day thinking about sending the mail out, but they have to because the business depends on these communications,” says David Bilodeau, manager of product marketing at Pitney Bowes.
The U.S. Postal Service greases the wheels of commerce. While the mail may seem like a mundane matter to a business, it is the channel through which bills, checks and regulatory documents are sent and received. It is also how people receive merchandise they order online and how parts are moved across a company’s farfetched supply chain network.
Those wheels are cycling fast, too. Through November 2014, the U.S. Postal Service’s shipping and package volume grew by more than 300 million pieces, an increase of 8.1 percent.1 During the holiday season, the volume increased further, up 12.8 percent from the same period the previous year.2
What Automation Can Do for You
Since most of this traffic volume is commercial, costs are significant for businesses. For example, FedEx® and UPS® recently revised their pricing policies for ground packages, moving from traditional weight-based calculations to pricing based on package size. This change is expected to result in the largest rate increase ever for all companies that ship goods.3
Automating the shipping process can help businesses contain costs. “Shipping is a complex process, insofar as how to get the best rate and ensure that the parcel goes to the correct recipient on time, without errors,” says Mike Graves, director of channel sales, shipping and logistics services at Pitney Bowes.
But at many companies, different business units and functions routinely ship parcels without a thought. For instance, it is common for employees to overnight a package for delivery the next morning, when later that afternoon or the following day would be satisfactory — and substantially less expensive. With an automated system, companies have immediate visibility into these actions to determine appropriateness. Some automated systems also interact in real time with different transport carriers to determine the best rates.
“You’re able to view all the carriers at once to balance your decisions on customer service and cost,” Graves says. “In some customer segments, we’ve seen rate savings of up to 75 percent. You’re just given more flexibility in choosing one carrier over another.”
For online retailers, automating shipment processes can help them make decisions about when to offer free shipping, and to which customer segments. “One set of consumers may be cost-conscious and eager to buy something with free shipping, another won’t be satisfied unless you get the product to them in five hours,” Graves explains. “And yet another may want their order fast and free.”
The system matches the right carriers with each set of customers to improve revenue opportunities, reduce cost and better serve the customer. Also, companies can analyze data produced by the system to discern consumer-spending patterns. This information is important for forecasting and marketing purposes, and can positively affect pricing negotiations with carriers.
The Mistake-Free Mail Center
Parcels aren’t the only shipments to think about. Mailboxes these days are jammed with stock prospectuses, privacy notices and product recall circulars, many of them driven by industry regulations. Each consumer also receives, on average, 41 pounds of retail catalogs each year.4 All this mail typically is assembled by hand in company mail centers.
Automation can help businesses reduce the risk of human error. It can also limit machine error.
“How many times have you received a bill meant for someone else?” Bilodeau asks. “The reason it happened is the mailing inserter mistakenly put two bills in the same envelope.” Automation helps businesses see if mistakes were made — in time to correct them.
Even more consequential: When someone’s medical records or test results are put in an envelope addressed to the wrong person. “Not only does this impair the health care provider’s reputation, the federal government may assess a large fine against the business for disclosing protected personal information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA),” Bilodeau says.
Since few companies are actually in the business of shipping or mailing, it may be wise to take advantage of technologies that ease the burden whenever possible. Time and money saved here and there can add up to significant bottom-line results.
1 “U.S. Postal Service Reports Revenue Increase, $5.5 Billion Loss in Fiscal 2014,” usps.com, November 14, 2014
2 “USPS 1Q Shipping and Package Volume Increased 12.8%,” Multichannel Merchant, February 10, 2015
3 “Dimensional pricing could add $550 million annually for UPS, FedEx,” DC Velocity, June 20, 2014
4 “Stopping Junk Mail FAQ,” 41pounds.org
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