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Today we celebrate World Post Day. This UN observance commemorates the establishment of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), headquartered in the Swiss capital Berne. Established in 1874, the UPU is the second oldest international organisation in the world.

Worid Post Day aims to create awareness of the role of the postal service in our business and personal lives, with many post offices hosting special events like open days, poster displays etc. New stamps are also often issued on this day.

In this digital era, where instant connectivity is taken as a given, the traditional postal services are facing some of the biggest challenges in their long history. With the pervasiveness of email and social media, the average person has less and less reason to interact with paper-based hard copy post. Letters happen on email; birthday cards whizz around electronically, bills arrive in you email and get paid via online banking. And junkmail – the heaps of colourful paper brochures filling up your mailbox and trying to tempt you into parting with your hard-earned cash, are more and more changing to digital format and distributed using new strategies like electronic viral marketing.

Are mailboxes like these on the verge of extinction?
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These changes have already resulted in announcements from the US Postal Service that more than 220 mail processing facilities would be closed or consolidated in 2012/13 as part of a three-year, $15 billion cost-cutting plan.

In response to this challenge, the US Postal Service’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC) recently initiated a project to “study the impact of the digital revolution on the future of the American postal ecosystem.” In the report generated from this study, a range of strategy suggestions are made, and the report concludes “The Postal Service has the opportunity to extend its national platform into the digital world and enable traditional service providers, as well as new entrepreneurial ‘applications developers’, to generate a wide array of additional physical and digital postal services to meet the present and future needs of digital natives and digital migrants.”

One of the specific services being suggested is an ‘eMailbox’, a “single official U.S. Mail branded e-mail box” where every citizen will have a permanent address, linked to their physical address, providing the postal service the flexibility to deliver both physical and electronic mail. Also suggested is a Postal Service hosted ‘eGovernment platform’ to serve as an integrative platform underpinning the digital communications strategies being initiated in different federal departments and programs.

A suggestion that I find quite interesting is a ‘Hybrid and Reverse Hybrid Mail’ service. which could play a role in bridging digital divides by offering ‘digital to physical’ and ‘physical to digital’ mail conversion services, enabling those who do not have direct access to digital technologies to still interact with the digital world.

A ‘Hot Mail’ mailbox – a cheeky comment on the digital revolution.
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If the suggestions from the above report can work for the US Postal Service, similar changes may likely follow in other countries, and developing countries in particular may gain huge value from the hybrid and reverse hybrid approach.

Whatever the outcome, we can be sure that postal services the world over will see massive changes over the coming years. I would be very interested to get a peek into the future to see what the post office will look like in 2030!

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