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Aug. 27 2008 03:34 PM

    In December 2006, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (the Postal Act of 2006) was signed into law, drastically altering the business operations of the United States Postal Service and presenting more opportunities for shippers and their transportation partners. As the Postal Service has enhanced its capabilities and started working more closely with third party integrators, this year is shaping up to deliver new, efficient and intriguing offerings to shippers and as a consequence, their customers.

    Over the last 18 months, the Postal Service has transformed itself into a truly competitive business operation. Not only has it invested heavily in growing its package business in particular, it has followed through on a commitment to its customers and its solution provider partners to improve its capabilities, service and offerings.

    With a new and clear understanding of co-opetition and partnerships, the Postal Service also began offering price incentives based on delivery volume and growth, and for the first time, the Postal Act of 2006 allowed customers and third party integrators to negotiate prices and customize offerings based on Postal Service capabilities. More importantly, bureaucratic decisions that were once measured and made in months or years are today measured in weeks or even days the sign of a truly nimble, customer-centric organization.

    The changes are in place and shippers are now poised to take advantage of significant efficiencies and cost advantages. But with all of these significant changes, how do shippers recognize the most affordable, efficient solutions for their specific shipping needs? To help sift through these new choices, customers should look to a trusted advisor a shipping solution provider and integrator with a deep understanding of the Postal Service operations to best determine those solutions that are worth pursuing.

    And that raises yet another question: what should the shipping partner look like? Here are some key characteristics you should consider in that partner:

    The first and last mile.As Jim Cochrane, Vice President of Ground Packages for the Postal Service recently wrote in PARCEL, no one can deliver into the neighborhood more economically than the Postal Service. Were at every business and household six days a week, he notes. Reaching 146 million addresses, shipping providers should keep those words in mind and utilize the Postal Services first and last mile advantage the distance from the local post office to a given address. You should select shipping partners that maximize this advantage by providing a private delivery network to move goods across greater distances and rely on the Postal Services first and last mile advantage to pass on its cost and delivery efficiencies.

    A total solution. Regardless of your business, no company needs just one class of mail to serve all of its delivery needs, and it makes little sense to choose multiple shippers to provide multiple mail class solutions. A shipping partner instead should handle all US mail needs from Parcel Select, Standard Mail Machinables and Priority Mail to Bound Printed Matter (BPM), Standard Mail Irregulars and Standard Mail Flats. The partner should act as an integrator for the customer.

    Moreover, the integrator should provide both delivery and return services an end-to-end life cycle capability based on Postal Service offerings. Today, those include Parcel Select, introduced in 1999 and now delivering millions of consumer packages. Parcel Returns Service is the returns equivalent, giving returns the first mile advantage as well. As a 100% postal solution, Newgistics is currently the only provider and partner to the Postal Service that is authorized and capable of delivering this total solution across all mail classes, deliveries and returns.

    Electronic Verification System (eVS) compliant. The Postal Services eVS manifest mailing system gives parcel shippers the ability to electronically document and pay postage and extra fees while giving the Postal Service the capacity to efficiently reconcile mailer manifests each month using a sample of eVS data. eVS compliance allows shippers to more accurately estimate their charges, drastically reducing pricing adjustments made during reconciliation. Most importantly, eVS compliant shippers can move product any time of the day instead of awaiting the USPS to clear the manifest before the product can ship. You should seek out those shippers whose systems are VS compliance and, more importantly, those with a proven track record of having very few, or even zero, postal adjustment fees.

    Package tracking, visibility and cycle time. Most quality transportation providers now provide consumers and shippers with the ability to track package progress, from the moment of order to delivery. However, its typically provided on their terms, and often only on the transportation companys website. Look for a transportation solution partner (integrator) that can provide that tracking visibility whenever, however and wherever you want it. For example, most retailers prefer to keep customers on their website to track packages, rather than a carrier site. And call center representatives should have access to that detailed information via a company intranet, whether it is hosted on the corporate network or by the shipping provider itself. The ability for both shippers and their customers to track packages in the environment that shippers want is a key differentiator.

    Additionally, this order to transit to delivery visibility should provide cycle time measurement and performance reporting. The integrator should commit to a set cycle time and demonstrate it is being met for each package. Dont sign a contract without that commitment.

    Consulting, not cookie cutter. These new Postal Service-based solutions arent meant for every company and every shipper but instead give businesses the opportunity to choose options that fit their specific needs. Rather than a standard menu of shipping options based on wide-ranging needs, transportation solution partners should work closely with you to determine the particular shipping needs for your business, based on your customer needs. With all of the advantages recently introduced by the Postal Service, the results are useless if they dont align to specific business needs. Additionally, a truly consultative approach from a trusted advisor will take a neutral stance in choosing the transportation networks that move goods to the last mile, creating even greater efficiencies and cost savings for the shipper.

    The USPS, with the implementation of the Postal Act of 2006, now offers enhanced service, negotiated rates and a newly competitive business to and for shippers across the country. For those shippers that maximize the Postal Services major competitive advantage, the first and last mile for delivery and returns, these new offerings represent a major leap forward in the shipping and returns solutions that can be created for their customers. The key is finding a transportation solutions partner that can leverage these improvements and do the most for your particular business.

    Bill Razzouk is the CEO of Newgistics, Inc., an Intelligent Logistics Management (ILM) firm that simplifies the shipping and returns process by optimizing the first and last mile of USPS-based packages.