The Postal Service's 'get well' plan? Greeting cards.
Next time you visit the post office for stamps, you might also be able to buy (and send) your brother his belated birthday card.
The U.S. Postal Service has started selling Hallmark greeting cards at some post offices, a one-year experiment that may lead the nation's 34,000 postal outlets to eventually sell other goods and services, including banking, insurance and cellphones.
About 1,500 postal branches started selling birthday and "get well soon" cards two weeks ago. District residents can buy cards only at the Postal Service's flagship location at L'Enfant Plaza, and another 29 spots in Maryland and Virginia also have them.
Unlike the mail, greeting cards remain a popular and profitable line of business, with 7 billion sold annually for more than $7.5 billion in sales, according to the Greeting Card Association. (Yes, there is one.) People receive more than 20 greeting cards each year, one-third of them for birthdays.
Of those 7 billion cards, roughly 4 billion are sent through the mail, accounting for about 2 percent of total mail volume, said Robert F. Bernstock, president of mailing and shipping services for the Postal Service.
“If we can get some energy behind greeting cards, which are incredibly linked to the mail, what better place to sell them and merchandise them than at our post offices?" Bernstock said.
A Postal Service study confirmed that customers think selling greeting cards at post offices is appropriate and that they would buy them if offered, Bernstock said. The goal is for the cards to help boost postal retail sales by 30 to 40 percent.
A 2006 law allows the Postal Service to sell various mailing and packaging products and other mail-related items, including cards. Officials awarded the one-year deal to Hallmark's Sunrise Greeting card line, with the option to extend the deal for two more years.
“I think we’re going into it with a little optimism that we’ll be able to expand to a greater number of retail outlets. The early data is encouraging," Bernstock said.
Most European and Asian postal services sell financial or insurance services or prepaid cellphones, and American postal officials want Congress to give them permission to at least explore the possibility of doing something similar.
"I think we're going to have to rationalize," Postmaster General John E. Potter said recently. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out that we're not going to sell the same number of stamps going forward."
The Postal Service suffered its biggest losses ever during the fiscal year that ended in September, has offered buyouts to 30,000 employees and may close hundreds of postal branches early next year. Postal officials also want to end Saturday mail delivery.
So perhaps the best way for the Postal Service to get well soon is for you to buy a "get well soon" card from them.
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