Dozens of private sector operators of retail mailing and shipping stores in the US have complained to regulators about US Postal Service plans to offer enhanced PO Box services in post offices.
At least 40 operators, including a number of The UPS Store franchisees, filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission today as part of a complaints process regarding new USPS PO Box services introduced since 22nd January this year.
The “enhanced” services that have attracted the operators’ anger include the acceptance of parcels from private carriers like UPS, FedEx and DHL on behalf of USPS PO Box customers, “a practice that has been prohibited for years”, and the ability of PO Box customers to use the street address of the post office in which their PO Box is housed rather than a formal PO Box address.
The notification of PO Box customers by email or text regarding items received in their PO Box is also among the “enhanced” services that the rival mailing store operators claimed was introduced by USPS without gaining the required regulatory approval.
Many of the operators have noted the large volumes of mail they handle for the US Postal Service, and note the fact that they are regulated by USPS, facing restrictions on their own business activities like forwarding mail, as part of the regulation by their competitor.
The new enhanced services for PO Boxes in post offices would mean USPS competing against existing small mailing branches across the US, the operators claim.
“The new business practices place the United States Postal Service in direct and unconscionable competition with thousands of small businesses across the country,” said Charles F Reigh, owner of a The UPS Store branch in Twin Falls, Idaho, who said USPS was hitting business owners who had in many cases taken out loans secured on their own homes to run their mailing store businesses.
“This new form of competition from the USPS will result in a significant loss of revenue and substantial harm to my business. That threatens not only my home, but also the jobs of the people I employ.”
The complaints relate to the outcome of a Commission approval back in June 2010 for USPS to move 49 of its PO Box service locations from the list of its highly-regulated market dominated products to its lightly-regulated competitive portfolio.
Moving any further PO Box locations to the competitive list would require fresh Commission approval according to the regulators, and USPS made a request in May 2011 for 6,800 locations to transfer, approved by the regulators in July 2011.
Under the approval, new “enhanced services” for these PO Box locations began to be offered in January 2012. USPS says it now has all the regulatory approvals it needs to introduce the enhanced services.
But this view is being rejected by groups including the Associated Mail and Parcel Centers, National Alliance of Retail and Ship Centers and 11 other organisations including the Independent Coalition of Franchise Owners (ICFO), which represents The UPS Store franchise owners.
The ICFO said: “What the USPS is doing is fundamentally wrong. A financially viable Post Office is an important part of our members’ business model, but not at our expense. A relationship with the USPS is a careful balance of competition and support, and in this instance they have tipped the scales.”
Some of the complaining competitor operators of mailbox rental services said today that the new USPS services could even have unexpected consequences on USPS itself, such as creating longer queues in post offices, and a reduction in express mail revenue because USPS PO Box customers will be able to accept deliveries from private sector carriers.
Robert P Krause, owner of Virginia Beach-based Mail Depot, Inc., suggested that if the Postal Regulatory Commission allows USPS to go ahead with its new competitive PO Box services, it should remove the Postal Service’s right to regulate aspects of independent operators’ own businesses as Commercial Mail Receiving Agencies.
“Should these enhancements be approved, the PRC should require the Postal Service to scrap every one of the CMRA regulations that currently give the Postal Service a competitive advantage over the privately-owned mail and parcel stores’ mail box rental services. We need a level and fair playing field,” Krause told the regulators.