Canada Post: the new business model of non-delivery

Viewed from a customer perspective, it seems that Canada Post is better at delivering punch lines than delivering mail.

Its latest plan hinges on cancellation of home delivery.  So, soon the mail won’t reach the address on the envelope.  Canada post will only take it as far as a rack of mailboxes it plans to install in a public space somewhere near the homes to which the mail is addressed.  The racks haven’t been built yet and no one knows where they will go, but the corporation has already determined that this service decrease warrants a 35% price increase.

Can this be the start of a trend?  Will Air Canada flights from Toronto to Vancouver put passengers off in Coquitlam?  Will Petro Canada dispose of its pumps, making drivers DIY ladle fuel into their cars?  Will the CBC signal die at the cable splitter box on the hydro pole behind your house, obliging you to shinny up at 10pm to enjoy the national news?

Maybe I’m not being fair.  Year after year Canada Post has delivered billions of letters over huge distances.  It wasn’t always on time or on target, but Canada Post never stopped delivering.  It was always just reliable enough to be taken for granted, not treated as a joke, like air travel, which is also notorious for late delivery and misplaced items.  An old friend used to call our national airline, “Air Chance,” because he and his luggage had different itineraries.

Now time is running out for Canada Post jokes, so let me get my favourite down in writing before it’s too late:

An elderly woman sits at her window watching eagerly for the postman.  One day as he walks toward her fenced yard, he stops, whirls, and stamps angrily on the sidewalk.  After another few strides, he stops again and stamps the pavement behind him.  Then he enters through the gate and slams it shut, glaring back once more before turning and approaching her door. 

Curious, she meets him at the door and asks, “Is something wrong?”

“I’ll say,” he replies, “That damned snail has been following me all day!” 

That’s an old joke and some people won’t find it funny.  But everyone will “get” the new Canada Post joke:

A crown agency is formed to deliver the mail.  It exists for no other purpose.

As a cost saving measure, a plan is struck to make it perform more efficiently, like a private sector corporation (don’t laugh yet).  However electronic communications eliminate so much mail volume that the corporation cannot manage to produce a profit. 

Instead of dissolving the corporation, its executives announce a brilliant new strategy to reduce its costs, increase revenue, and achieve profitability. 

By making customers deliver the mail to their homes, and by charging them more for the privilege, costs go down, revenues go up, and, Voila! – the profits pour in.  (OK, you can start laughing now).

So it’s not the knee-slapping hilarity we’re used to when crown corporations act all businessy, but the satirical possibilities are endless.  When I read about it in the paper, I thought of Tom Sawyer tricking his friends into paying for the chance to whitewash his aunt’s fence.  Canada Post’s strategists deserve points for audacity if nothing else.

Can we sharpen the humour a bit?  If the way to profitability lies with cutting service, increasing prices, and making the customers do the work, then why not implement even more cuts, new charges, and greater inconvenience?

Besides, there are problems inherent in Canada Post’s modest proposal.

For one thing, there’s no room on crowded city sidewalks for all the new mailboxes.  When you get assigned your new mail box, in an as-yet-undecided location, it will quickly fill with the same junk you receive at home now.  The difference will be that you can let the pizza flyers, real estate brochures, political campaign literature, and the previous resident’s uncancelled Architectural Digest, which no one really reads, jam the little box until the door won’t close.  Unlike the pile that used to build under the mail slot in your front hall, you can ignore a mess you never see.

Then what?  What will Canada Post do when you and millions of others let their new mail boxes fill with junk until nothing more will fit?

They’ll notify you of the problem, of course, by mail.  But it won’t reach you because they can’t afford to deliver it.  It will be added to the bale of forming in your mailbox, ready for recycling.

The new mailboxes will soon become eyesores and fire hazards.  In rural areas and subdivisions, where they exist already, the ground is littered by people who shuck the junk and take home only what matters to them.  Urban businesses and homeowners will rise up in anger over the mess.  The boxes will be emptied once and for all and Canada Post will be searching for a new service to cut, another reason to raise prices, and a new way for customers to lend a hand.

My solution is to make the cuts deeper.  If Canada Post can turn a profit by eliminating home delivery, imagine what they can save by amputating another leg of the service.  Stop taking the mail to the mail boxes too.

It’s simple.  Make the customer go directly to the central sorting stations.  Then you can line them up at a counter to request their mail.  Former mail carriers can “deliver” it without snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night keeping them from their appointed rounds.  Because their appointed rounds will be limited to the service counter, the cafeteria, and the washroom.

Since the postage is already paid, and the customer is doing half the work, the only way to raise more revenue is to charge admission.  Or better yet, charge reverse admission.  You can make the customers pay to get OUT of the facility, which they’ll be glad to do, given the elevated risk of someone going “postal” in there.  (I’ve always thought this would make pay toilets more lucrative too.  Make people pay to get OUT of the cubicle and you can pretty much name your price.)

Anyone can see how this improves on the efficiencies of their current plan.  Not only do you avoid the cost of installing millions of mail boxes, you save the cost of trucking the mail out to them.  Add this to the savings on home delivery already in the plan, top it up with reverse admission charges at the sorting station, and the profits will pour in!

There you have it, Canada Post’s answer to the internet age:  Counter service!

But why stop there?  There’s more money to be saved in the elimination of postal pickup and sorting.  If you follow Canada Post’s logic, the next step is to stop collecting the mail from the red boxes and trucking it to the sorting station.  Sell all the trucks, fire all the drivers, and put the sorting facilities to work processing welfare cheques for all the newly unemployed postal workers.

Fuel savings alone should be enough for Canada Post’s executives to give each other bonuses.  And why shouldn’t they?   They deserve it for figuring out how to shed 70,000 employees, 7,000 vehicles, and 6,500 post offices, while raising prices and turning a profit.

Those of you who lack vision may find it hard to imagine how mail will be delivered after the letter carriers, the trucks, mail boxes, drivers, and sorting stations have been eliminated.  It works this way:

If I need to send a letter to you, I will simply write the letter, stick a stamp on the envelope, and deliver it to your home by plane, train, automobile, bicycle, or on foot.  After dropping it through your mail slot, I’ll return home to wait for your reply.  As a courtesy, I might email, text, or tweet an alert to you, and if I don’t get a prompt response, I’ll probably phone and leave a message.    After you’ve considered what I’ve mailed to you, you can write a response, stick a stamp on it, and deliver it to my home by air, rail, or road.  The whole exchange shouldn’t take more than a couple of days, or weeks, at most months, depending on the distance between us, the mode of transportation, and sometimes the wind.

If you have a problem with this, you’ve got to start thinking outside the box, or the envelope, as the case may be.  Canada Post has shown us a rosy, glowing, profit-filled future.

These are good days to be a snail.
Snail Mail

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