The Goin Postal pack-and-ship company has signed a deal to put small postal stores inside of 2,000 Walmarts. While the Postmaster General will probably say it’s all about customer convenience, the deal represents yet another step in the privatization of the Postal Service.
These postal stores, it should be noted, aren’t exactly the same as the mini-post offices that the Postal Service tried piloting in 82 Staples late last year. The Staples counters were more like contract postal units in that they sold only USPS products and services and they charged regular USPS prices. The Goin Postal stores are part of the USPS Approved Shippers program, which consists of stores that can also offer FedEx, UPS, DHL, and anything else they want. They make their profit by charging a fee on top of the USPS pricing.
By expanding its network of “alternate retail channels” — whether through Village Post Offices in convenience stores, stamps on consignment at retail chains, online transactions on usps.com, postal counters in Staples, or an Approved Shipper counter in Walmarts — the Postal Service has been encouraging its customers to do business at places other than regular brick-and-mortar post offices.
In the short run, that means the Postal Service can save money by reducing the number of clerks in post offices and by cutting the hours of operation, as it’s done with POStPlan, the initiative to shorten hours at 13,000 small post offices.
While the Postal Service likes to be coy about it, there’s no question that expanding alternate access is about cutting costs. As a USPS memo about the Staples pilot stated, “The Pilot will be used to determine if lower costs can be realized with retail partner labor instead of the labor traditionally associated with retail windows at Post Offices.”
Along the same lines, in a Nov. 8, 2011, letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a USPS vice president wrote, “Over the last five years, our current retail strategy has resulted in an increase in alternate access revenue from 24% to 35% of our total retail revenue. This is one of the contributing factors that enabled operations to reduce window work hours by 23.7% during the same period of time.”
In the long run, the agenda of expanding retail access in private businesses is the same as it’s been for years — to close thousands of post offices. Study after study has recommended closing brick-and-mortar post offices and replacing them with counters in private retailers.
As the Postal Service states in a typical press release, “With nearly 100,000 places to buy stamps, ship a package or renew a passport, the U.S. Postal Service is expanding customer access to its products and services. It’s not about brick-and-mortar Post Offices anymore, as postal products move online and into retail outlets, grocery stores, office supply chains and pharmacies.”
The 2,000 Walmarts slated to get a Goin Postal store represent just under half of the 4,150 or so Walmarts in the United States. There’s no word yet about Goin Postal or another business expanding into the remaining Walmarts or other big box stores, but that’s clearly the direction things are going.
Goin Postal Goes Walmart
Goin Postal is a franchise chain of retail shipping & receiving stores based in Zephyrhills, Florida. The company has already arranged for its current franchisees to put stores in 500 Walmart locations, and it is currently looking for people who want to start a store in one of the other 1,500 Walmarts available for a postal counter. You can see a list of 1,350 of these Walmarts here and a map here.
There’s another map showing the USPS post offices in the same zip codes as most of these Walmarts here. This map shows about half of the 2,000 Walmarts slated to get a Goin Postal store and it has some errors, but it’s good enough to illustrate an obvious point: Where there’s a Walmart, there’s also a post office nearby.
At this point, there’s no evidence that the Postal Service had anything to do with arranging Goin Postal’s deal with Walmart, but it’s almost certain that postal management signed off on it in some fashion, since Goin Postal, as part of the USPS Approved Shipper program, probably couldn’t have made such a move on its own.
There are currently about 6,000 Approved Shipper retail outlets, so expanding into 2,000 Walmarts represents a significant increase. This is just the kind of growth in alternative retail access that the Postal Service has been looking for.
Originally, the Postal Service probably envisioned creating a network of contract postal units to replace post offices, but putting postal counters in Staples ran into a lot of opposition. The Walmart deal looks to be the next-best thing — considering the reach of Walmart, maybe even better.