The president of the United States admitted last week that he’s stripping the Postal Service to suppress voting by mail in the upcoming election. While that on its own is enough to make this action completely illegal and unjustifiable, it’s important to note just how vital of a service the mail is and all the knock on effects such an irresponsible action will have.
Aside from mail-in voting, the postal service is the primary way people receive their medications, pay their taxes, receive their paychecks, and—most relevant to us—the way most domestic small businesses ship goods to you. Of the brands and retailers I spoke to, they used the USPS for roughly 95% of their shipped orders.
The consensus was the postal service was cheaper, more reliable, easier to use, and had all the same features of the private shippers. The USPS makes shipping one of the few areas small business have an even playing field with enormous corporations like Amazon that have the resources to make their own delivery infrastructure. Instead, the postal office is all of us banding together to make the most efficient and cost effective service for all of us.
If it were to disappear, we would all be paying more for our slubby denim, hand welted boots, resist-printed bandanas, and all the other obscure items our subculture trades in. Those extra expenses mean a higher bottom line and make it more difficult for our favorite small brands and retailers to survive.
The USPS handles 143 billion pieces of mail annually, which is about 30 times the volume of their nearest peer UPS. They operate 31,000 post offices and deliver to 160 million addresses. Because of this scale, they’re able to deliver for much cheaper than other carriers.
On the web’s largest ecommerce platform Shopify, for example, shipping a USPS First Class package of 16oz. or less costs around $3.50 and can deliver anywhere in the US in 3 days. USPS Priority Mail costs $8.15 and for that you can get 2 day delivery plus insurance up to $100. UPS Ground for the same package and the same speed costs $8.49, 2.5 times more than USPS First Class. To match the Priority Mail, you’d need UPS 2nd Day Air, which costs $16.49, more than double the cost. USPS also picks up from your doorstep.
Alex Robins of Blluemade estimates that about 60% of the packages they ship are USPS First Class and without that option, it would add much greater expense to their fulfillment operations.
Much ink has been spilled the last few weeks about how the USPS operates at a loss*, but it’s a service from which we all collectively benefit. The military also doesn’t generate a profit on its face, neither does paving roads, health inspections for restaurants, or educating children—but all of those things (except maybe our hyperinflated military) are necessary for us to live freely and safely and private business including our small favorites couldn’t be nearly as profitable without it.
*The USPS would actually be profitable if it weren’t for an unprecedented 2007 bill that required it to pre-fund retirement benefits for its employees for the next 75 years.
Congress has been called out of recess this week to address the post office budget crisis. If you value weird jeans, small business, voting, or even sending a letter to your grandma, consider contacting your representative and encouraging them to fully fund the US Postal Service.