The United States Postal Service (USPS) was born out of a principle that every citizen has a right to a low cost and reliable delivery service. The system now delivers 213 billion items to 156 million addresses annually.
USPS dates back to 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed as Postmaster General and the service provided was immediately recognised as vital to the development of a vast, newly emerging nation. Since its early beginnings the business has been constantly adopting new technologies and methods of transportation to help it live up to the motto, ‘Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.’ The early introduction of free delivery for newspapers ensured that literacy rates were the highest in the World for many years and loss making deliveries to the remotest communities ensured that knowledge was passed quickly and efficiently enabling the country to develop very rapidly. The Pony Express started in 1860, cutting days off delivery times in some areas, but lasted only 18 months before it superseded by the transcontinental telegraph line. Rural Free Delivery in 1896 and then Parcel Post in 1913 enabled the new concept of mail order shopping to take off, used by as much as 25 percent of the population in its early days.
Airmail began in 1918, originally using army planes and personnel, but this was taken over in 1920, and formed the basis for the US air industry today. The number of items being sent grew rapidly from the 1930s to the 60s and a search for more efficient systems lead to the introduction of the Zone Improvement Plan, commonly known as ZIP codes. In 2001 a business alliance was formed with FedEx Express which allowed USPS to improve its services without adding additional costs. The business remains as a standalone branch of the US Government and is self financing; competing for trade in the communication, distribution, delivery, advertising and retail markets.
The Delivery Process
USPS uses Intelligent Mail Barcodes (IMb) to label the items it carries with a unique identity in the form of a fluorescent pattern on the back and a black version on the front. This is completed automatically by machines that can read hand written or printed addresses. The collection and delivery service follows a standard spoke and hub format to connect sorting depots in ever increasing sizes. The hubs are divided into; Network Distribution Centres, Auxiliary Sort facilities, Sectional Centre Facilities and Destination Delivery Units. Distances of under 200 miles are generally covered by trucks and vans, while anything further away is transported by air. The USPS system is used by companies like UPS and FedEx where it fits in with their schedules, particularly to rural areas, which brings in additional revenue. Similarly, UPS has an agreement to deliver first Class and Priority Post for USPS across 98 US cities. The company now employs over 700,000 workers to handle the annual load of 213 billion items.
There are a number of different mailing options with USPS with price dependant upon the service, size and weight of the item. Express Mail is used for letters, envelopes, tubes and packaged items with a two day delivery schedule including basic insurance. Priority Mail is slightly slower but cheaper; both options have a maximum weight limit of 70 pounds and length of 108 inches. First Class Mail does not set a specific delivery time period although it does not normally exceed three days. Parcel Post is described as the affordable and reliable way to send packages, but again with the same weight and size limitations of Express Mail. Media Mail is usually the cheapest option but is limited to books, manuscripts and other readable media formats.
There are a number of additional features that can be included in the delivery service by USPS which enhance the security of the item being sent. The services are Certified Mail, Registered Mail, Delivery Confirmation, Signature Confirmation and additional insurance cover up to a value of $1,000. These allow for the tracking of high value items and proof that the package has been posted and received in the case of disputes.
USPS Tracking Options
USPS uses a system known as CONFIRM to track items through its delivery process, which uses the IMb – Intelligent Mail Barcodes, printed on the packages, that provide a unique code for each one. The IMbs are read by a Intelligent Mail Devices (IMDs) which feed the information into a central database. The IMbs are read at each hand over along the route, either by fixed or hand held units, which provides an accurate way of determining when each stage is reached. The customer has different levels of access to the tracking data dependent upon the level of service that they purchased. If Priority Mail Express was selected then entering the label number will provide point-by-point tracking information; USPS Tracking, Certified Mail and Registered Mail will show when it was despatched for delivery. IMb technology can also be used to track incoming mail and also identify the sender. In addition, there is the ADVANCE system which provides a series of reports for companies that are sending out bulk mailings of advertising material and periodicals. This can provide useful information on the intended audience, incorrect addresses and confirmation that the service purchased was achieved successfully. This replaces manual publication tracking requests and provides a much higher level of information at a reduced cost.
By combining forces with other companies that might be seen as competitors USPS is managing to remain financially secure and independent. Despite the growing use of the internet the volume of items that are being delivered is still increasing year on year.
Should the tracking service not work, our support team and the support team of the shipping companies would gladly help you.