Mail Carriers Balk at Bulk Mail!

I’ve been an online shopper for about 10 years now. I’d like to think that I was an early adopter, but maybe I was just a part of the early majority. I started out buying just a few things a year. Now I shop online as often as 2 or 3 times a month and I’ve had a number of mishaps with missing, damaged, or delayed packages. Any time I have some sort of issue with the post office, my mother usually knows why. She has worked for the US Postal Service for nearly 25 years. We’ll call her Mrs. Wilson. Today I sat down with Mrs. Wilson and we had a chat. I was fishing for information about advertising. Without me having to ask directly, she provided some illuminating insider info– and she always does.

There’s so much that can be said about USPS right now because it’s really in bad shape. It’s losing money in the billions, people are being laid off, benefits are being slashed, and some post offices are being shut down. Mrs. Wilson’s latest gripe was that she spent a certain amount of time casing mail which is meant to be picked up by a carrier and then delivered. When she was done her 3 boxes, the carrier came over, took all the mail, and then tossed it in the undeliverable bin. Mrs. Wilson asked what was going on, and the carrier said “I’m not doing all that,” and then she walked off. As a scare tactic, Mrs. Wilson called the carrier back because the boss was coming over. She had no intention of being a whistle blower because she and the carrier are in 2 completely separate divisions of the post office. That’s another issue for another blog. So anyway, the carrier quickly came back and took the mail out of the bin. She left Mrs. Wilson on this note, “It doesn’t matter, none of us are delivering this mail come Monday.” Naturally, I asked Mrs. Wilson why a carrier would do that. How could a carrier do that? And she told me that carriers are much more powerful than people think they are.

First class mail is not to be trifled with although there are always exceptions. Instead, this is bulk mail I’m talking about. In ad lingo, it’s better known as “direct mail” or “ad mail.” Mail volume is down nonetheless due to the struggles of the post office, but ad mail is down substantially. What’s the difference? Bulk mail is sent out in mass quantities because as more is sent, the cheaper it costs. It could also be considered junk mail, but not exclusively. If you have a favorite store that you shop at and that store sends you a cool coupon, it isn’t the carrier’s choice to decide whether you should get it. It’s not their choice to decide if you should have your monthly clothing catalog either. They take it upon themselves anyway. If the news media is the gatekeeper of information, the carrier as the gatekeeper of mail.

How do they justify it other than being lazy? Bulk mail might have your name on it and it might not. Anything that says “current resident” gets flagged for the trash. Even if your name is on it, all they have to say is that you don’t live there anymore or you died. In their defense, direct mail can be a pain because it gets addressed to each person on a street. I can understand how tedious it is to slip the same little neon card into everyone’s door along with all the regular mail. That doesn’t make it okay. People pay to send this stuff and the post office desperately needs the money!

Mrs. Wilson estimated that each day a box the size of a kitchen stove gets filled with bulk mail and then gets shipped off to the incinerator. And this goes for every post office. From a media planner’s perspective, direct mail is cheap yet very cost effective. Even though direct mail gets thrown away, the exposure is what matters. It’s not a tangible thing, but it is traceable. Junk mail is big business and although people despise it, it’s effective. This issue can swing either way. I hate junk mail as much as the next person, but if the sender is a brand I regularly do business with then I want anything they’re sending me.

Please proceed with caution when dealing with the US Postal Service because it’s on the outs right now. Morale is low and indifference is high among employees. Also, I’m thankful to have a righteous mailman. After hearing so many bad things about USPS from within and from online I think he’s a rarity.

Would you consider trashing bulk mail as the “true” public service?

Here are some related articles.

Walletpop – Trash or Treasure? The Price of Junk Mail (on the fence)

Folio – Grudge Subscriptions (old article with an interesting perspective)

Gainseville – Carriers Fired for Not Deliverying Bulk Mail