The Postal Service announced back in July that it was ending its pilot program to put mini-post offices in Staples stores. The 82 postal counters it had set up last October would be transitioned to the Approved Shipper program, which has been around for years without causing much controversy. (The Postal Service explained the transition in this blog post.)
At the time, it seemed like the Postal Service was looking for a graceful way out of the pilot because of all the protests it had caused. But now the Postal Service is expanding its presence into all 1,500 Staples.
Earlier this month, the Postal Service sent a letter to the APWU informing the union that it would be moving into every Staples store in the country as part of the Approved Shipper program.
The Postal Service included a list of the Staples stores, along with the launch date for each location. You can find an easier-to-use list of Staples stores here, and a map, here. For more about the history of the Staples deal, see these previous posts. We've also made a list and map of nearly 1,400 Staples showing the post office in the same zip code and the distance between them.
Staples already offers UPS shipping services, so also selling some USPS products would be typical of an Approved Shipper. These Approved Shippers are businesses like Goin Postal and Shipping Depot that offer products and services from the Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, DHL, and whomever else they want to partner with. They usually make their money by putting a surcharge on the regular price charged by the delivery service. (They usually don't give customers big discounts on USPS products, like Staples was doing last summer as part of the pilot — discounts made possible by a secret Negotiated Service Agreement.) The Approved Shipper stores make a point out of giving the customer a choice, and they don’t typically identify themselves primarily as USPS providers.
The USPS presence in 1,500 Staples may turn out to be something different, however. The photo above shows a new sign in the Kips Bay Staples Store at 574 Second Avenue in New York City. This location wasn’t part of the pilot of 82 Staples, so it’s an example of the new expansion. As you can see, the sign doesn’t give the impression that the Postal Service is just part of an Approved Shipper counter.
You get the same impression when you go to Staples’ Store Locator website. The locator allows you to select from six store features you may be looking for — mobile phones, computer workstation, buy online with pickup in stores, etc. One of the six features is “U.S. Postal Service.”
When the Postal Service said in July that it was not going ahead with the Staples pilot, the APWU called the announcement a “ruse.” "This attempt at trickery shows that the 'Don't Buy Staples' movement is having an effect,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “We intend to keep up the pressure until Staples gets out of the mail business.”
It looks like Mr. Dimondstein was right. The Postal Service may have retreated from the pilot to put mini-post offices in 82 Staples, but it is going right ahead with expanding into 1,500 Staples, just under a different program. Within a few weeks, a sign like the one in the Second Avenue Staples store will be showing up in Staples across the country.
The Postal Service is moving full speed ahead to put postal counters in big box stores. You can add these 1,500 Staples to the 2,000 Walmarts that are getting a Goin Postal store, also under the Approved Shipper program. That’s 3,500 new places to do business with the Postal Service. It also represents a dramatic increase in the number of Approved Shippers. There are currently about 6,000; there will soon be nearly 10,000.
The USPS Office of Inspector General is currently doing an audit investigation to determine whether the Postal Service maintains adequate oversight of the Approved Shippers Program. That oversight is about to get a lot more complicated.
Postal management says that expanding into big box stores is all about “customer convenience,” but the real goal is clear enough: Build up the network of alternate retail access channels so it’s easier to close post offices, and replace union jobs in post offices with low-paid workers in big box chains. Along with closing processing plants, shifting to cluster boxes, making private deals with companies like Amazon, and selling off postal properties, it’s just another phase in the privatization of the Postal Service.
(Photo credit: Kevin Walsh, Dir. Org. NYMAPU)