The mailbox isn’t dead, it just took a vacation…

If you’re a music buff like I am, you might recognize that saying. It’s actually a paraphrase of a comment made during the Eagles first reunion tour back in the 1990s. One of those concerts was recorded and produced on DVD for posterity. The late Glenn Frey opened the recording by simply saying “For the record, we never broke up, we just took a 14-year vacation,” and with that the Eagles resurrected their image, brand of music, and legacy.

If you consider the mailbox standing at the end of your driveway or in the lobby of your apartment complex, it has followed a similar fate.

With the advent of electronic delivery, everyone from the mailman to mainstream media believed that the printed document, as we know it, would soon be dead. Soon after the launch of the Internet, all types of web-based services exploded. The Internet growth of the early 2000s was dominated by the creation and failure of numerous dot-com companies. In our Nation’s Capital, the landscape of several tech corridors was dotted (pardon the pun) with dot-coms. They seemed to spring up overnight, and—just as fast as they arrived—they closed their doors again, leaving unoccupied offices and pink-slip parties in their wake. Through all of this, the concept of electronic delivery survived, and companies reaffirmed that the printed document was soon to be dead.

But close to thirty years later, the mailbox remains. The paperless society that was hailed as a foregone conclusion never arrived. The mailbox is surviving and, in fact, it seems to be gaining renewed focus as the volume of mail is leveling out.

So, what happened?

  1. The e-delivery wave didn’t take into consideration the small business. Adopting an e-delivery initiative takes time and money–not to mention the fact that capturing and maintaining email addresses is hard to do and requires consistent management. Think about it: a person may change his or her email address 5 or 10 times over a span of time, while few people move that often and most small businesses tend to remain in the same location for a long period of time. Meanwhile, mail offers a way for people to leave a forwarding address to ensure delivery can follow you to your new location; email, not so much.Furthermore, small businesses typically have paper-based accounting systems, where they track incoming receipts, bills and statements. Rarely does a person do everything electronically, so basically if you’re going to print out the bill yourself, you might as well have someone else print it for you.
  2. Only a handful of people use e-delivery on a consistent basis. If you were to look at adoption rates across the board, the typical adoption rate ranges around 5-9%, with perhaps a spike here and there to 20%. That means only 1 or 2 out of every 10 customers are using e-delivery for receiving and paying bills or critical communications. E-delivery is still not widely adopted and perhaps will never be. Unless your business forces people to go to e-delivery as the sole delivery option, not all your customers are going to adopt.
  3. No one considered the baby boomers. Baby boomers grew up watching their parents walk to the mail box. It was a special event to open the mail box and find a card or letter from a relative. Receiving a bill or statement in the mail was a reminder. Baby boomers remember a time when their parents opened the front door to find a dozen eggs, fresh milk or even a can of Charles Chips. Do you really think Baby Boomers are going to fully accept receiving bills, statements or other critical communications via the internet? Not in their lifetime.

Combining all of these factors with the fact that we have baby boomers just entering retirement, pending tax changes that could lead to a growth spurt in the small business sector, and more and more people becoming exhausted by losing their “real” email in a flood of spam, and I’d bet that over the years to come that mail volumes will level off or steadily increase. With the potential growth in the number of small businesses, individual entrepreneurs, and organizations comes additional challenges, but one will remain finding alternatives for printing and mailing lower volumes of mail.

Thankfully, the same industry that predicted the end of the printed document also gave rise to Internet based print-to-mail services.

What are print-to-mail services?

In an earlier post, we explained the differences between print and mail and print-to-mail services.  But in short, print-to-mail services offers traditional print and mail services via the internet, allowing small- and medium -sized businesses to outsource their mailing processes.  The efficiencies gained by outsourcing your mail processes not only saves money but also allows your employees to focus on their core competencies.  To learn more, read our earlier post here or visit our home page.

Tim Furr, Director, Business Development

MailXStream is an online print-to-mail service that allows you to control the important parts of the print-and-mail process–your document content and format–with the rest of the nuance and tedium left to MailXStream. For more information, check out mailxstream.com or reach out to us.