The USPS Office of Inspector General commissioned a focus group study to try and determine what Americans want from their postal service. Today the OIG published a white paper summarizing the results:
The U.S. Postal Service faces tough decisions about its future, including how it will continue to meet America’s changing communications needs and how it will return to financial stability. To make such decisions, the Postal Service must know the products and services its customers demand of it. While it is important to understand what Americans want from the Postal Service, it is equally important to gain a better perspective on what they absolutely need.
Last year, the Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a paper summarizing the results of a national web-based survey aimed at better understanding how Americans view the Postal Service now, and its role in the future. To gain further insight into the results of this survey, and explore the types of compromises the public is willing to accept, the OIG again partnered with market research firm InfoTrends to conduct a series of focus groups across the country.
The focus groups provided new, qualitative insight by gathering opinions from 101 individuals from 67 different ZIP Codes in a variety of rural, suburban, and urban areas. The demographics of the focus group participants were generally consistent with the rest of the country in categories such as age, gender, access to the Internet, and population density. Although the results cannot be generalized, they shed light on what a sample population of Americans want and need from the Postal Service.
The following report, What America Wants and Needs from the Postal Service, describes the results of the focus group discussions.
Several key trends emerged from analyzing the focus group results:
- Funding: Consistent with our previous survey findings, nearly 70 percent of participants did not realize the Postal Service is self-funded, incorrectly believing that it receives tax dollars for operations. Upon learning it is funded by its own revenue, participants lowered their service level expectations. For Americans to make informed decisions about what they expect from the Postal Service, they must understand its funding structure.
- Physical Locations: Most participants valued the Postal Service as an institution. Participants in rural areas considered a Post Office a valued community asset, whereas urban participants placed a higher importance on the convenience of accessing postal services. Rural participants noted security concerns with trusting their mail with nonpostal employees in nonpostal retail locations, such as grocery stores. This often prevailed over the convenience of co-location.
- Accessibility: Many participants felt strongly that the existing hours offered at their local Post Office should not be reduced, and focus group participants who worked suggested shifting or expanding the current hours to accommodate their work schedules. Several participants were concerned that reducing their Post Office’s current hours could result in increased wait times, their largest source of dissatisfaction with the Postal Service as reported in a pre-focus group survey.
- Delivery: Participants were most likely to compromise on residential delivery location and the number of delivery days.
- Location: Security concerns were the primary driver of opinions on delivery location for those in rural areas, whereas convenience motivated those in suburban and urban areas. Participants were generally willing to move to centralized cluster boxes if the boxes were relatively convenient, saved the Postal Service money, and ensured security.
- Days: Most participants supported a reduction in the number of delivery days, although there was a lack of consensus on the number of delivery days needed or which days to eliminate. Those who worked preferred to receive mail on Saturdays.
- Digital Services: Participants found it difficult to imagine digital services and accordingly did not think it appropriate for the Postal Service to provide them.
- Governmental Services and Other New Products: Similar to the previous survey results, some participants saw the utility of offering governmental or other new products or services at Post Offices. However, the participants revealed that they thought others, rather than themselves, would actually use the services.
- Postal Service’s Role in the Future: More than 98 percent of focus group participants stated they would be negatively affected if the Postal Service ceased to exist, but participants could not articulate how their lives would actually be affected.
This research sheds light on a sample of Americans’ views of the products and services the Postal Service offers now and could provide in the future. Additional research on specific new products and services could provide additional, more complete, insights.