Remember how a few week ago I set up temporary mail forwarding so that I could receive my mail in Ohio while I was out of Utah for a month? Well, it was easy enough to set up, but the experience afterwards has been less than ideal, which is a shame, because the post office could make it a lot easier and probably make some money on the whole deal, to boot.
1. Easy to sign up, but hard to cancel. When you sign up for temporary forwarding, you specify an end date for the forwarding. But what if you don’t know when that is going to be? You can specify a date, and then extend it longer (supposedly fairly easily), but what if you guess wrong and you need to cancel the forwarding earlier than expected? The only way to do it is to physically enter a post office and fill out a paper form, which you can hand to them if you’re at your own post office, or you can mail from another post office. But you see the problem here? If you hand it to your own post office, the one mail is being forwarded from, then on the very day you’re handing that over mail is being forwarded somewhere else. In other words, rarely would you ever want mail to be forwarded up until the day you walk back into your own post office. Ideally you would want it to stop such that the last mail that is forwarded arrives at your temporary address the day before or the day of your departure from that address.
2. What about the mail that is forwarded after you don’t need it to be? I will be returning to Utah from Ohio next week, and most likely I will be flying in a jet that, at some point, will cross a few thousand feet over a jet heading in the opposite direction carrying my mail from Utah to Ohio. That mail will be delivered to an address I won’t control anymore. So what do I do about it? Well, what I’m going to do about it is talk to a neighbor I’ve become friends with and have him check my mail and send it back. But I’m just lucky I know the guy well enough to ask him to do that, and this wouldn’t be feasible for most travelers. If it weren’t for him, I really don’t know what I would do. Maybe I could stay here an extra week or two, just to check the mail?
1. Simple online management. I set up the forwarding online, why can’t I modify or cancel it online? Not that hard. The post office could even give me tools that say “If you’re forwarding from Utah to Ohio then it takes X days for mail to arrive, which means you should probably cancel forwarding Y days before your return.”
2. Permanent, dynamic addressing. This would be a more radical change, and it could apply to phone numbers as well as addresses. How about if everyone in the country had a permanent mailing address–for life? You would give out one address to friends, family, credit card companies, etc. for all mail correspondence. Then online, you would tell the post office where you actually want your mail routed to. That way, whenever you move, you only have to change your address at one place instead of 50, 10 of which you’ll forget. Of course there are cases where you have to provide a physical address, and those policies could remain, but many companies maintain a mailing address as well as a physical address for their customers. This would just make it that much easier for everybody to make sure they get their mail.
And this way, forwarding could happen at the point of origin, rather than the point of delivery. You see, as it stands, my mail all comes to Salt Lake City before it gets forwarded. But what if somebody mailed me something from Ohio while I’m in Ohio? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the everyone involved if the mail could just be delivered straight to me in Ohio? The post office wouldn’t have to fly it across the country only to have to fly it back, whoever is sending the mail would get their mail to me more quickly, and I would receive it more quickly. Everybody wins.
It wouldn’t be too expensive to implement this kind of system. In fact, I bet the post office could implement the whole thing on a national level for under $1M (not including marketing costs) and save several million the first year.