On Wednesday, we took a high-level look at concerns about operational changes that are happening at the U.S. Postal Service and have been a prominent part of recent news cycles. Today, we’re offering direct mail advice to marketers on what they need to understand about working with the Postal Service while planning their fall direct mail campaigns. As we noted in the previous post, the Postal Service is making moves that will lead to more consistent and predictable delivery service, but the timing, lack of communication, and ripple effects of COVID-19 are making it difficult to see the progress the agency is making.
Based on what we are currently seeing from our mail tracking data, any adjustments to mailing cadence would depend on the type of mail being presented.
- At this time, we are not recommending any schedule changes for fall mailing programs of drop-shipped automation letter-size mailpieces (note: there is a possibility of delay for some around Election Day—see below for more).
Marketers may see some slight delivery delays in COVID-19 hotspots for drop-shipped, automation letter-size mailpieces. These delays are due to employee availability in isolated pockets. For example, if carriers are out for quarantine, this may add one to two days beyond normal Marketing Mail service standards. Our observations indicate that any such delays are anomalies at this point.
- Flat-size mailpieces and parcels are more likely to receive manual sortation and handling while moving through the postal network, and are therefore more likely to be delayed if staff availability is impacted by COVID-19. For these mail types, we suggest advancing mail drops to ensure items are received by planned in-home dates.
Related to concerns about the impact of election mail on other mail in the system, we observe:
- The Postal Service made a conscious effort to communicate with all states regarding USPS service standards, as some state statutes allow voters to request a ballot as late as October 29th, even though that does not allow enough time for ballots to be returned by election day. With large numbers of citizens choosing vote-by-mail this year, the Postal Service was compelled to do outreach to states to inform them of this timing issue and encourage them to mail ballots as early as possible to voters, and encourage voters to mark their ballots and return them as early as possible. Unfortunately, in many cases the media reported this proactive step as the Postal Service not being willing or able to deliver all ballots on time.
- The largest volumes of outbound absentee and mail-in ballot volume will be mailed to voter homes between the last week of September and mid-October. These will be in the form of larger presorted mailings and will be widely distributed, so the impact will not overwhelm any single USPS facility.
- Forecast for mail-in ballot use nationwide is 80 to 100 million. This amounts to less than 25% of the average daily mail volume processed and delivered by the Postal Service (420 million pieces).
- The Postal Service has more than enough capacity to process and deliver all ballots that are mailed, meeting service standards for the mail class, preparation, and shape. Remember, this mail volume is going to be mailed and returned to election offices over a span of several weeks.
- Voters can choose to drop these ballots in the mail via USPS collection box (i.e. blue box), hand them to their letter carrier, or drop them in election office ballot collection boxes. This single-piece volume will be automated Business Reply Mail. The addresses for this mail will be many precincts and county election offices scattered around the country, so no one USPS facility will be overwhelmed by volume.
- The weekend immediately preceding the election will have a large volume of First-Class ballot mail that will be given priority over Marketing Mail letters delivering in the same ZIP code as election offices. Our direct mail advice is to take this into account when planning your in-home windows for this timeframe. Either lengthen the time of your in-home window if it overlaps Election Day (November 3), have the in-home window start on November 4, or have the in-home window complete before Election Day. For a national mailer, this will not have a material impact. For a regional mailer, it may create a slightly different delivery pattern, depending on the amount of overlap between the mail files and election office ZIP codes.
Our biggest piece of direct mail advice: take a deep breath—things are not as bad as they seem. If you still have concerns or questions about the state of the USPS or scheduling the cadence of your fall mailings, please reach out to me or your IWCO Direct account team.
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