The hard-up U.S. Postal Service is asking citizens whether they would ship more items if novel payment technologies were accepted, as virtual currencies and smartphone transactions gain in popularity.
The USPS inspector general website invites customers to post comments about “innovative payment methods” that would entice them to use agency retail counters. The poll is part of an ongoing audit.
The IG likely will not have the results of the review until September, USPS IG Chief of Staff Agapi Doulaveris said in an email. Since the audit is in the preliminary stages, it is unknown whether bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies will be among the payment transactions explored.
The virtual currency has yet to go mainstream in brick-and-mortar stores, so a nod from the Post Office would be a big deal. Online electronics dealer NewEgg and 1-800-Flowers are among the latest e-tailers to accept bitcoins.
Today, customers use cash, credit, and debit cards at USPS retail locations. The inspector general is asking consumers three questions to inform the forthcoming audit:
- Would the availability of innovative payment methods make it more convenient to use the Postal Service for all of your shipping and package services needs?
- Can you identify specific payment methods that would help meet your mailing needs or increase the use of the Postal Service due to its convenience?
- If you are not a frequent shipper, do payment methods or the convenience of payment influence your usage?
Since June 2, two people have commented, neither effusing enthusiasm. One customer, who said he ships packages about 10 times a year, answered "no" to each question.
The other site visitor stated: "The Postal Service already allows multiple payment options. . . What your audit does not address is the cumbersome manner of delineating zones, variable rates amongst the various zones, and an inability to verify or quantify the postage affixed to the package due to the nature of 2 dimensional coding, and an inherent trust of the consumer that the weight they state is in fact the proper weight as well as the postage affixed."
The USPS IG audit is early in the process of “identifying possible payment technologies and strategies to enhance revenue growth in the Postal Service’s shipping and package services that would be more convenient," Doulaveris said.
In January, Bloomberg reported that USPS might set up kiosks for bitcoin transfers, to boost revenue outside its shipping business. The Postal service already offers several financial products, such as money orders and prepaid debit cards.
"Possibilities include putting Bitcoin ATMs in some of the 35,000 post offices around the country or offering electronic wallets – either virtual or physical – where people could store their Bitcoins," according to Bloomberg.
USPS lost $1.9 billion in the second quarter, which ended March 31, although operating profits were up. Revenue from first-class mail actually grew slightly compared to last year, despite volume losses that have played a large role in the Postal Service’s financial problems.