Is There Light at the End of the Postal Tunnel?
In the first of a two-part series examining the recent passage of the postal rate-making reform law and its effect on catalogers, this week I’ll provide background on the U.S. Postal Service’s rate-making policy and how the new postal reform law will benefit direct marketers.
First, let’s examine why and how catalogers found themselves on the short end of the stick following the implementation of new postal rates last May.
Way back in 1990, the USPS asked the Postal Rate Commission (PRC) to recommend postal rates that would begin to reflect the processing-cost differences caused by the shape of the mail. The least expensive shape for the USPS to process, transport and deliver is letter mail, followed by flat-shaped mail (most catalogs) and then parcels. The PRC agreed, and the letter/flat rate differential was born. This 1990 rate differential, however, was far smaller than the actual cost differential since the USPS wanted to phase in a full rate differential to avoid “rate shock.” This philosophy remained until 2007.
In this year’s rate case, the USPS held true to its 1990 philosophy and proposed Standard mail rates that continued to slowly increase the letter/flat rate differential. The Postal Regulatory Commission (as renamed and redefined under postal reform), however, decided that the rate difference should match the cost differential. Thus, the average 9 percent rate increase for Standard mail became a 20 percent to 40 percent rate increase for many catalogs.
Under the old 1970 postal law, postal rates were based on the cost of providing the service. The PRC decided that since flat-shaped mail is more costly to process, its postage should reflect that difference. Moreover, the PRC believed that catalog mailers could adjust their mailings to mitigate the effects of this high-rate increase.
Experts differ on whether or not the full cost differential is reflected in the current rates. (Personally, I think it is.) This difference in opinion helped lead the DMA to conclude that it wanted to avoid another old-law, cost-of-service rate case. Therefore, this year we worked with the PRC and the USPS to have the new rate-making procedure rules completed by the end of October, and they were.