When you think about the Post Office, you may think about standing in line to buy stamps, mailing packages or picking up items requiring a signature. When you think about the Post Office, you may think about the letters, flat envelopes and magazines that your letter carrier picks up and delivers every day. Or, you may think about the blue mailbox on the corner. Think again think quick, easy, convenient! Think ultra-modern postal stores with open merchandising and expanded product offerings. Think about online shipping and shopping options on www.usps.com. Think Automated Postal Centers that could do for the Postal Service what ATM machines have done for banking. Think pick-up options at your home or business for little or no additional charge. These are some of the features that the U.S. Postal Service is introducing as we continue to ask customers how we can best meet their needs.


    Package shipping is an important component of business operations across all segments of the economy and the U.S. Postal Service is committed to being the world's best package delivery service. We are leveraging both technology and our vast delivery and retail network to enhance our core products and services and to make them accessible and easy to use.


    Through www.usps.com, customers can find ZIP Codes, purchase stamps and order free shipping supplies. To make package shipping more convenient, www.usps.com customers can calculate rates and print shipping labels with or without postage using Click-N-Ship as well as schedule a next-day pick-up of Express Mail or Priority Mail at no additional charge through online notification of carrier pick-up. There is no limit to the number of packages for online notification of carrier pick-up and for a limited time, free stack and weigh scales will be available to customers trying the new online notification for the first time. Delivery confirmation and online insurance up to $200 are also available for Click-N-Ship packages without having to go to the Post Office.


    Personally, I like to get away from my desk occasionally and enjoy using the new Automated Postal Center (APC) to ship my packages, and I am not alone. Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,600 APCs have been installed and have generated millions of transactions. Kiosk Magazine recently gave the APC its "2004 Best Retail Kiosk" award, citing customer convenience and reliable access to a broad range of postal products, services and information. The publication notes the APC has the potential to "revolutionize" transactions for customers, saying "These terminals could do for the Post Office what ATMs did for banking." APCs take debit and credit cards and are planned to grow to 2,500 by this year's holiday season.


    Who doesn't appreciate the convenience of the Priority Mail Flat-Rate envelope, offering one low, predetermined rate, regardless of the actual weight or destination; or the prepaid version available on www.usps.com? Pending a request to the Postal Rate Commission, the U.S. Postal Service hopes to offer two new Flat-Rate boxes in 2004. The proposed containers, priced at $7.70, come in two familiar shapes a clothing box (14 inches x 12 inches x 3.5 inches) and a shoe box (11.25 inches x 8.75 inches x 6 inches). And, the boxes will be offered at no cost to customers.


    Postal mailing and shipping solutions have always been an excellent value. The Postal Service is meeting our Postmaster General's commitment to keep rates stable until 2006 and with our prices, what we say is what you pay. Unlike many shipping companies, the Postal Service does not add back-end accessorial charges to the cost of package shipping. Accessorial charges by other shipping companies have increased greatly and can add as much as 20% to the cost of mailing a package. According to industry experts, these charges are expected to increase.


    While our rates remain stable, our service keeps improving. Our delivery service is at an all-time high after seven consecutive quarters of record 95% and above on-time overnight delivery. That same excellent service extends to our economical Parcel Select ground delivery service. I recently spoke with Scott Lindgren, Manager of Transportation for Nordstrom and Nordstrom Direct, who puts a high value on customer service. When asked how he balances service and the bottom line at Nordstrom he replied, "Service is the bottom line." Lindgren says that after switching to the U.S. Postal Service from another company's ground delivery offering, on-time service to his customers rose from 97.9% to 98.3%. "There is a myth out there among package shippers that the Postal Service is not as reliable as their competitors," he stated. "Our experience is just the opposite. Not only does the Postal Service offer a great value in package shipping, it also meets our high standards of service."


    Quick, easy, convenient great value and best ever service what's there to think about?


    Shoshana Grove works with USPS Package Services and has 27 years of experience as a letter carrier and also a Postmaster. Contact Shoshana at sgrove@usps.gov.