Several key events and trends in the final months of 2008 will help drive value in the mailstream, from constituents voting by mail in the November Presidential election, to the rise in e-commerce and shipping during the holiday season. In addition, recent developments such as competitive shipping options introduced by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and mail's role with delivering prescriptions to Americans through a secure channel hold great promise and value both now and in the future.


    Voting by Mail

    As Americans make their final decisions on which candidate to support in the upcoming Presidential election, voting by mail could play an important role with encouraging more people, who cannot make it to the polls, to cast their ballots. According to the Census Bureau, more than 16 million Americans who registered to vote in 2004 failed to go to the polls on Election Day. Almost half of those cited reasons for not voting that easily could have been overcome by absentee balloting. These included schedule conflicts, travel, inconvenient polling locations, illness or disability, bad weather or transportation problems.


    A survey Pitney Bowes conducted last year also indicated that 49% of Americans would find voting by mail to be more convenient than voting in person. Seventy-four percent of respondents reported that they would at least consider voting by mail if their state made it easy to do so, and 37% said they would "definitely" or "probably" vote by mail if it was made convenient.


    In recognition of citizens' busy schedules and today's technology, jurisdictions across the country have been updating and streamlining the voting process to operate more efficiently and better serve constituents who vote by mail through secure systems. These systems help streamline mail balloting, providing election officials with an automated and accurate way to handle increased mail ballot volumes and the opportunity to reduce costs of hiring seasonal employees to prepare ballots and stuff envelopes. The voting by mail systems also help automate the inbound and outbound handling of ballots; standardize addresses conforming to USPS requirements; and apply barcodes that identify the correct precinct, party and language of each ballot recipient. In addition, the systems provide one-to-one reconciliation of every ballot mailed and received and verification, audit tracking and proof of mailing.


    This can help give election officials and voters peace-of-mind that the entire mail-in balloting process is monitored and managed in an end-to-end process. The outbound system delivers the ballots to the right voters at the right address, at the lowest cost. It offers mail ballot tracking and audit capabilities that meet public and political demands for transparency. When voters cast their vote through the mail, systems equipped with inbound mail ballot processing equipment ensure accountability with sorting and data capture equipment. Equipment sensors are programmed to look for anomalies like envelopes with two ballots or envelopes without ballots. Some systems also offer the flexibility to adapt to future voting requirements.


    The Rise of E-Commerce and Competitive Shipping Solutions

    The surge in Internet shopping and shipping of consumer goods is another key trend that is driving value in the mailstream. According to "The State of Retailing Online 2008," an annual study released by and conducted by Forrester Research, Internet sales are expected to grow to $204 billion this year. This is an increase of 17% from $175 billion in 2007.


    Also, last year, comScore, a company that measures the digital world, reported that $29.2 billion was spent online during the holiday season, marking a 19% gain versus the same period in 2006. Despite the slowdown in the economy this year, the value proposition that online shopping holds in offering convenience, efficiency and helping to save on gas by avoiding trips to the mall, will encourage many consumers to shop online again for holiday gifts.


    Package shipping solutions and services are playing a vital role in helping businesses deliver consumer goods purchased online in a timely manner and as cost-efficient as possible. This is especially important during peak e-commerce periods, such as the holiday season.


    Earlier this year, the Postal Service introduced new competitive delivery services and rates. This was made possible due to greater pricing flexibility provided by The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. This is enabling the Postal Service to more effectively compete in the shipping market and offer customers greater savings online for services, such as small package solutions for low-end shippers, versus the retail counter.


    The Postal Service is also providing great convenience, accessibility and savings to shippers through its online solutions and services. For instance, shippers who use USPS Priority Mail and Express Mail package services can request a free pickup for their packages online. In 2006, 40 million Priority Mail and Express Mail packages were picked up for free nationwide. In addition, through the Postal Service Click-N-Ship solution, shippers can purchase postage online and print it from the convenience of their desktops for their Priority Mail and Express Mail packages. Also, the USPS does not include surcharges for delivering packages on Saturdays, offers free packaging and won't charge shippers for address corrections when they use their services.


    A major strength of the Postal Service is that it can reach every address and PO Box in the United States, six days a week. From small towns to large cities to the most rural and remote locations, the Postal Service delivers mail to more than 300 million people at 148 million homes, businesses and PO Boxes. The Postal Service also adds 1.8 million new delivery points each year to its delivery network, which is equivalent to the number of addresses in a city the size of Chicago. The Postal Service is also offering this capability to major package carriers to help serve as the "last mile" for the delivery of ground packages. Through its Parcel Select service, USPS business partners, including major carriers, can pick up packages from large retailers and transport them to a Postal Service facility near the customer's address. Postal Service carriers deliver the packages for the last mile to the final customer location. This presents an opportunity to have fewer trucks on the road delivering more packages, which can help major carriers save on fuel costs and benefit the environment


    Mail's Role with Prescriptions

    Mail also brings value to the healthcare industry by serving as a secure delivery channel for prescriptions - a benefit to consumers as well. According to the latest statistics from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Americans who purchased prescription drugs from mail order pharmacies rose from just under nine percent in 2000 to just over 13% in 2005. Approximately 37% who purchased drugs from mail order pharmacies were age 65 and older and close to 75% reported they had at least one chronic condition.


    Also, consider the following. Longer life spans and aging baby boomers in the U.S. are expected to rise dramatically during the next two decades. According to The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, there will be approximately 71.5 million people who are 65 years-old and over by 2030, representing 20% of the population. This is more than twice the number of people who were 65 and over in 2000 or 12.4% of the population. As a result, healthcare and the need for offering convenient, secure options to purchase and receive prescriptions will continue to be important to help meet the future needs of aging Americans.


    The Postal Service is playing a vital role in working with healthcare companies through the certification of high-tech shipping systems and delivering prescriptions through First-Class Mail and Priority Mail. For example, at National Postal Forum 2008, the USPS recognized Kaiser Permanente with its Corporate Business Achievement Award for the company's commitment to a successful business partnership. Kaiser currently processes between 35,000 to 40,000 prescriptions daily through its high-tech shipping system, of which 20,000-25,000 are shipped First-Class Mail and Priority Mail by the Postal Service. The remaining prescriptions are sent to Kaiser's hospitals and medical offices for patient pickup.


    Mail is also being used to properly dispose of products that might otherwise be harmful to the environment, including prescription drugs. For example, one state is working with the Postal Service to offer the first program in the US to help consumers dispose of excess medicines by mail. Consumers will be able to place unused prescriptions or unwanted over-the-counter drugs in pre-addressed, postage-paid pouches available at many pharmacies. The pouches are mailed to the state's Drug Enforcement Agency for proper disposal.


    In addition to prescriptions, the USPS is also offering a "mail it back" recycling program where consumers can mail their used electronic items such as ink cartridges, PDAs, cell phones and digital cameras. During the pilot program, consumers can pick up free prepaid mail-back envelopes at select post offices. This is an easy and convenient way to recycle items that could otherwise potentially harm the environment.


    A Look into the Future

    As we head into 2009 and beyond, mailstream technology, solutions and services will continue to bring intrinsic value to businesses, consumers and government entities. While there won't be another Presidential Election until 2012, jurisdictions should continue to look for secure systems that can help update and streamline the voting process to operate more efficiently and better serve constituents who vote by mail in all elections.


    E-commerce, especially during the holiday season, will also continue to drive the need for shipping solutions that offer opportunities for businesses and consumers to leverage greater savings, convenience and accessibility. Also, as the number of mature adults grow, so will the need for delivering prescriptions by mail in a secure channel.


    John L. Campo is Vice President, Postal Relations, for Pitney Bowes Inc. For more information, please visit