Post Office Adapts to Today’s Consumers, Economy

Falls Church APC

Michelle Taylor takes some time on a Sunday afternoon to mail care packages to her two college freshmen from the Falls Church Post Office APC. . .

Falls Church Times Staff

It’s Friday and as you finish your lunch you go over the list of errands that will consume the afternoon.  Get to the bank and the Post Office before they close.  Drop a request for reference books by the library so your daughter can start on her term paper next week.  Pick up the airline tickets at the travel agent.  All this and make it home before 5 p.m. so you won’t miss the phone call from the landscaper who wants to drop by Saturday morning.

Wait, something’s not quite right.  You turn the list over in your hand – this just doesn’t make sense.  Unless there was some hiccup in the space-time continuum you missed, it isn’t 1989 and everything on your list can be done by turning on your laptop, picking up your mobile phone, stopping by an ATM, and now – in the Post Office lobby at 800 West Broad Street – stepping up to the Automated Postal Center (APC) which is open for business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“The Automated Postal Center is a  self-service kiosk that allows  customers to buy stamps or mail  letters and packages in a self-service  environment,” Falls Church  Postmaster Donna Bradley wrote in  an e-mail to the Falls Church Times.  “APCs support up to 85 percent of all possible retail transactions, including the purchase of additional services such as Delivery Confirmation.  Customers can purchase stamps or mail letters and parcels using debit or credit.”

Bradley emphasized that the Post Office employees are ready to assist any customer interested in learning to use the APC.  “It’s a quick and easy alternative to standing in line in the inner lobby,” Bradley wrote.

The Falls Church APC was installed on July 15, 2009, and is one of 2,500 kiosks distributed across all 80 USPS districts.  City residents may remember an APC that was installed for a time at the Post Office’s former location.  Its unexplained disappearance several years ago produced grumbles of frustration from patrons who were left with no alternative but to stand in line waiting to speak to a clerk at the counter.

“APCs can help shorten lobby lines, assist during busy lunch periods, and allow you to focus on assisting customers with more complex mailing needs,” according to guidance distributed to employees by the USPS.  “The APCs will also make us more competitive by providing customers, especially those who use alternate shipping options because our hours are not convenient to their schedules, with expanded access to postal services.”

You can consider yourself a customer with complex mailing needs not supported by the APC should you need to ship packages internationally, conduct registered mail or money order transactions, or apply for a passport.  You can consider yourself a member of the demographic forcing changes to the USPS’s business strategy – changes that include the installation of APCs – if you e-mail more than you put pen-to-paper, conduct business transactions over a secure internet connection, and use FEDEX, UPS, or other competitors for your shipping needs.

Today, the 650,000-plus employees of the USPS deliver mail to a residence in the US for an average annual cost of about $235 per residence.  Ensuring the future viability of the USPS, an agency specifically authorized by the US Constitution, will involve more than annual first class postage rate hikes and increased automation.  Legislative changes to the Postal Reorganization Act signed by President Nixon in 1970, collective bargaining terms and conditions for unionized workers, whether or not all residences qualify for home delivery, and the number of days home delivery will be provided are examples of the numerous issues under consideration.

Just as your 1989 “to do” list doesn’t make sense in 2009, the Post Office of a generation ago is slowly being transformed in response to the realities of today’s consumers as they maneuver through an early 21st century economy.

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By Scott Taylor
September 27, 2009 


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