Unlike the title of John M. Cain's explosive 1934 novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, tomorrow's postman may not ring at all. As consumers grow more trustworthy of data security, online bill payment and management are expected to grow exponentially. The challenge is accelerating consumer acceptance so that the predicted growth begins today rather than tomorrow.

After all, companies have been aggressively cranking up their online businesses for more than 10 years. Because email has been fraught with security issues, banks, retailers and others have spent millions creating secure websites where consumers can order and pay for purchases. People have responded with gusto. Eighty percent of consumers transact business online; 64% pay bills online. Yet the rate of people opting out of receiving paper versions of their bills and statements stands at a mere 15-20%.

Why haven't consumers switched to a paperless platform en masse? We believe the answer is based on three consumer values that have been missing until now: convenience, control and simplicity. The average consumer receives more than 17 bills each month plus significant quantities of other essential mail (privacy statements, insurance documents, stock disclosures, etc.). Receiving all of these documents every month, one by one, on numerous websites requires significant work on the part of the consumer.

So, despite the appeal of digital documents and interest from early adopters, mainstream consumers are reluctant to take on the extra work of rounding up all their mail. They want a "digital postman" to deliver their electronic mail safely and securely, without any fuss on their part.

Digital Mailboxes — Poised to Propel the Mail Revolution

Digital postal mail — an exact facsimile of their paper mail — will be delivered immediately into a centralized digital mailbox as documents are made available from businesses. Consumers can access their digital postal mail conveniently, the way they want — through the web, mobile readers and a powerful iPad application. Unlike documents that consumers must search for on different billers' websites, everything is in a single place that they can control.

How do digital post offices work?

There are a few different digital mailbox solutions on the market today, but for this example, we'll focus on the one we are most familiar with.

Consumers log on to the website and register their free digital mailbox, which is based on the same physical address that the USPS uses. Once the address is verified via a verification code that is delivered physically to that address, the consumer can start receiving digital postal mail without additional setup. This particular solution we are referencing automatically delivers the full set of communications, rather than requiring consumers to gather additional documents from other sites. This push system is highly convenient and dramatically simplifies the consumer's process of getting mail. Should a person move, a simple change of address request is made for the digital mailbox to be associated with the new address so consumers keep all their documents forever.

Consumers will find other conveniences, as well, to make their lives easier when dealing with mail. For example, customers can choose how to pay their bills. They can still pay by regular mail, or they can click a button to pay automatically from a checking account or a credit card. No worries about having their documents at hand when they need them, either. The service archives mail forever in a secure document repository and provides an efficient search capability that allows consumers to find their tax filings or financial records easily at any time. A homeowner, for example, could search quickly online, from any computer, for an insurance policy lost in a fire.

Another nice feature will be a chat button allowing customers to click and chat with a company's representative. Surveys show that chat discussions on the Internet provide better customer satisfaction than on the phone. Plus, it is a more cost-effective solution.

Both businesses and consumers require a speedy, economical and compelling mail solution that solves their issues and meets their needs. The increasing cost of physical communications is simply becoming too much for businesses to bear. Estimates show that large banks, utilities and insurance companies, for example, spend around 50 cents per mailpiece. With the digital mailbox solution, that cost could drop to half of what it is today. As hard copy mail delivery becomes less convenient and less reliable, consumers, also, will begin to step up their demands for better alternatives.

The advantages of digital mailboxes for businesses stretch far beyond cost savings. The solution opens the door for two-way exchanges. Companies can put special offers in with their digital statements, and customers can click a button to accept an offer — an attractive way to increase revenue. Enterprises will be able to take greater advantage of precision marketing, data analytics and improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through web-friendly methods.

To ensure security, the top digital mailbox offerings employ a double-barreled encryption system — encrypting mail while in motion and at rest. The technology offers consumers an environment free of SPAM, malicious links and worrisome attachments. Encryption is performed in authenticated links to systems, in fat pipes, not trafficking "in the wild" (outside corporate firewalls). In addition, restrictions can be placed on documents, requiring user credentials or other security responses in order to be viewed.

What will digital mailbox solutions mean for the printing industry?

At first blush, digital postal services may seem like a scary thought for transactional and commercial printers. On the contrary, however, printers will benefit substantially if they capitalize on the trend now. Digital postal mail transforms the business liability of physical mail into an extremely valuable digital communications channel and represents the natural evolution of traditional postal mail into the digital marketplace.

Today, clients produce output by creating large electronic files, sending the files to the printer, then to inserters and then out for mailing. With Zumbox, for example, at the point where the files go to the printer, another data stream will send a copy to the secure portal. Consumers will see their mail immediately, and hard copy mail will be delivered via USPS to their physical mailbox, until they choose to opt out of receiving the paper versions.

As a result of economic pressures on businesses, such as using traditional mail, digital postal solutions become an attractive alternative that allows printers to remain relevant in the business-to-consumer communications channel. Printers will be able to provide their customers with a desired service while, at the same time, create a new revenue stream by leveraging their print-to-mail investments.

Four Major Pillars of Benefits

Cost savings: Service providers are facing ever-increasing costs and lower profit margins. Digital mailboxes enable providers to move to a low-cost model that will help improve margins.

Customer satisfaction and loyalty: Both satisfaction and loyalty can be improved through web-friendly methods, such as chat lines for customer support, which are less expensive than telephone coverage but more highly regarded by users.

Flexible payment options: Consumers can choose their payment method. By clicking a button to choose to pay either by credit card or checking account, users can avoid the postage costs of mailing in their bills and avoid late charges caused by postal delivery delays.

Better messaging options: Companies can send relevant messaging through two-way dialogue and respond quickly to inquiries. From what they learn through the process, marketers can better tailor their campaigns to hit their target audiences more precisely.

John Payne is CEO, Zumbox & Humberto Prospero is Director of Consulting and Integration Services. Visit http://bit.ly/rwhgAV for more information.