Infrastructure Damnation 11: Postal Services

While most Supply Chains don’t run on public postal services, and instead rely on private transportation companies for both their freight and package delivery needs, public postal services are still needed. Why?

Without public postal services, there would be an effective private monopoly in mail and package distribution. While there are multiple private options, without a public body to set baseline prices, there is no incentive for the private companies to be competitive. As long as the private companies thought they could charge more, it is very likely that rates would increase across the board, consistently, until the average company switched to independent bike couriers.

More importantly, without public postal services, the average consumer would not be able to afford to shop online as much as she does now, which would likely lead to an across the board decline in sales for many companies, which would, of course lead to a decline in order volumes and Procurement’s negotiating leverage with its suppliers.

And this is looking like a reality in multiple countries right now. As discussed here on Sourcing Innovation over the last few years, The First World Postal Services Are in Trouble and the, US, UK, and Canadian public postal services are all deep in debt and may need to drastically reduce services in the coming years in order to balance the books and keep in business. Consider SI’s recent posts on the US, UK, and Canadian postal services (including, but not limited to, our posts that asked if the U.S. Post Office Can Be Fixed and Too Bad the US Post Office Did Not Follow Royal Mail’s Lead). They are billions in debt (Canada Post is over 1 Billion in debt exclusive of pension liabilities, the recently privatized Royal Mail has a debt to equity ratio of 91% (which puts its debts at over 1 Billion US Dollars, and US is over 100 Billion in debt when underfunded pension liabilities are taken into account, and it’s not getting any better.

While one may think that this will never happen, as Canada has had its own public mail service since 1867, the US has had a reliable public service since the Pony Express started back in 1860, and the UK has had public mail since 1516 — but we could be just a few years away from the day it’s private bike courier for mail and small packages (and we need a Dark Angel for reliable deliveries). It is likely that Royal Mail is only still in existence because it was privatized (and that postal services in North America, if they do not drastically restructure operations, will have to follow suit).
And while you might not see a large impact to your supply chain, since the 3PLs and trucking companies are here to stay, when your order volumes decline and you have to pay double just to send a contract across town, you will.