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Useful New Features from the Post Office - and More They Could Do

Apr 10, 2012   [permalink]

I know the USPS is in a world of hurt these days from email and generally less shtuff being shlepped around in paper envelopes, but they did recently announce some interesting new features for P.O.Box owners. Which got me to thinking, maybe they could do even more, and remain relevant and useful (i.e. not go out of existence as they seem on the road to otherwise).

So they announced three things you get for free now with a P.O.Box:

1) You can make it look like a street address. That is, you can sign up to allow your box to look more like a business address and not like a P.O.Box. If your post office is located at 1234 Main St., and you're box #123, you can use an address of "1234 Main St., #123" as your address. No mention of a P.O.Box in there at all.

2) Email notifications when something appears in your box. If you don't have a high volume of stuff coming in, it's great to know when something has arrived and a trip over won't find it empty. I've tried this and it works peachy. It could be even better... but that's for the second half of this article.

3) Signatures for packages and such. You can give them a signature to put on file for acceptance of packages or other items that need to be signed for. Previously there was no way to sign for anything sent to a box... and now there is.

Those are fairly useful in their way — and free! — which got me pondering other feature enhancements they could do.

I realize the big weight on their budget is labor, and the desire/need not to layoff millions of workers. So feature ideas that require some labor are probably going to entice them (and the labor union) more than ideas that would help them cut staff, like more automation. Sucks, I know, but one has to be realistic.

So things I'd like to see the USPS offer (for free, of course!) :) ...

I) Virtual addresses: Like a P.O.Box, but mail sent to that address is automatically forwarded on to the other address you've specified privately. If you travel a lot, for example, or wanted to keep your address private but didn't want to drive to a P.O.Box. They already have the mechanism to do free forwarding when you move, so this would just be an extension of that without a one-year time limit on it. It requires human intervention, so it should keep the unions happy.

II) Scan to email: Again a virtual address sort of idea — in this one I'd envision the post office opens and scans the mail that arrives, then emails you the scans as PDFs. (As an option they could discard or deliver you the original paper.)

III) Send email to a physical address: I think it'd be pretty cool to be able to send email to 1234.main.st.anytown.state.12345@usps.com and then a printout of that arrives at that address. This would also presumably allow you to send email from your home address too, by using your home address as your email address. (Assumedly you'd have the option of having email to your postal address be delivered as email and not printed, if that was your preference.) To minimize spam, assumedly one would have to pay for this, but presumably at less than the price of a 1st class stamp. (I'd imagine it more in line with bulk mail prices.)

IV) Secure email addresses: Merging those last two together in a way, I'd like to see the post office offer secure, identity-proven email addresses. That is, if you got email from Pat.Smith@usps.com (and it arrived from one of their servers, as is easy to prove [e.g. "SPF", "DKIM", etc.]), then you'd know that they've verified the identity of the sender and it's really from Pat Smith, not a spammer.

Anyway, just the random musings this morning. So what cool ideas do you have for what the post office could do to be more useful?

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