If the U.S. Postal Service wants to innovate before they become as useful as those big fat yellow pages, they better come up with some clever ideas to remain relevant.
Perhaps in an effort to push the postal system into the technology generation and show that snail mail can have a teal-time component, the United States Postal System launched Thursday an iOS application to help people track the packages they send through the mail.
This new barcode scanning app allows users to snap a picture of the barcode that is affixed to packages when they get shipped off to their destination. Users are able to check the app at any time to get updated information where the packages is and when it will reach the recipient. The app is available for iPad, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 devices.
Users could also use use the new app to schedule a free next-day carrier pickup of their packages for easy business and personal shipping organization.
The USPS launched its first iPhone application in October of 2009 to access office location, hours and packaging supplies and rates -- this is a more expanded and real-time element for the post service to help customers stay updated on their shipments.
Users can also save lists of address that they want to have at their fingertips for shipping ease.
The USPS states that more than three million people each month use Postal Service mobile apps.
This week, the USPS also announced an expanded relationship with Verizon to build up the internal communication network -- a $168 million contract that will last six years.
Verizon currently provides satellite services and videoconferencing for the agency and hopes to improve the efficiency and technology used in the struggling national shipping system that has had to close hundreds of locations in the past few months.
As email and online transactions become more normal that finding a stamp and standing in line at the post office, the USPS group has had to scramble to innovate and evolve its services and public perception. Some proposals that have come across the USPS desk include the creation of eMailboxes which would be highly secure data storage and sharing sites. Users would sign up for their digital mailbox online and receive a confirmation number, which would be verified by an in-person visit to a Post Office branch.
The eMailbox would be tied to a physical address, but users could still control what goes where.
The shipping service disclosed that its 2011 fiscal year resulted in a net loss of $5.1 billion, bringing five-year losses to $25 billion.
Mail volume for USPS has plummeted in the face of rising of e-mail, electronic bill-paying and other Web services. While the system will handle an estimated 167 billion pieces of mail this year -- this staggering number is down 22% from five years ago.
And some estimates from USPS show that service could plunge further -- to 118 billion pieces by 2020. And, unlike some services like airfare, laws prevents the post office from raising postage fees faster than the rate of inflation.
Despite the struggles, USPS still delivers nearly 40% of the world's mail and is constantly rated the most trusted US government agency.
Hopefully some technological tweaks and support could help keep the vital government service above water -- but it will take much more than tracking services to change the trend we are seeing.