Friday, March 26, 2010

Five Day Delivery: Do polls of the general public matter?

Today Gallup published the results of a new poll asking Americans about what they think about the idea of reducing mail delivery by one-day a week.   The poll asked Americans their opinions about several options for reducing the Postal Service's losses 

This survey should aid the Postal Service in convincing members of Congress that supporting its 5-day delivery proposal would not result in political suicide.   The survey would appear to suggest that consumers would prefer reducing access to the Postal Service and delivery by the Postal Service to all other options.    However, the second Gallup question puts into context why consumers are sanguine regarding a reduction in service. They don't need the services that are willing to do without

About two-thirds of the public used the mail to pay a bill and about half to write a letter.  Both products require the use of regular postage stamps that can be purchased nearly 24-7 at any supermarkets.   Neither of these uses of mail is affected much by how many hours a post office is open or how many days a week mail is delivered, so it is not surprising that most people are willing to accept cutbacks in post office hours or days of delivery.

Most of the options that the public appears to not accept reflect opposition to actions that could affect their pocketbook.  I am willing to bet that if Gallup asked a question as to whether people to choose among a number of options to allow banana growers to become more profitable that they would prefer to have bananas only available in the market on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday or an increase in banana prices or a government subsidy of banana growers, that they would prefer the option of having bananas available less frequently.

The public's objection to the closure of post offices reflect the desire that post offices be available when they have the need to use one, even if that occasion may be rare.  If using a post office was important, than the public would likely find cutting hours equally objectionable.  Instead, you could argue that the public would accept post offices that were open only two or three hours a day, just because they might need to use it sometime.   The desire to have available a post office that they do not use is similar to why many of us hold onto clothes that do not fit because maybe some day we will gain or lose the weight necessary in order for the clothes to be moved from the back to the front of the closet.

More importantly, the Gallup poll does not ask questions that would help understand how cutting a day of delivery will affect the perceived value of mail to the sender, most of whom mail in quantity.  If you are going to ask questions of the general public they should instead try to determine:
  • If the mail does not come on Saturday, how will that affect the public's willingness to subscribe to publications that may not arrive until Monday?
  • If the mail does not come on Saturday, does the effectiveness and the value of advertising change if it is delivered a day earlier or a day later?
  • If a bill does not arrive on Saturday, how does bill payment change when mail may arrive a day earlier or later especially when the bill's grace period does not change?
These and other similar questions are the ones that Gallup needed to answer in order to really understand how changing the number of delivery days would affect the public.  It is also the answers to these questions that will determine whether those that mail in quantity continue to generate volumes they do now and how much the Postal Service's cost savings will diminish due to loss of volumes from mailers who either find that mail no longer provides a return greater than its costs or meets the minimum service requirements that make hard copy delivery by the Postal Service viable.


Justin said...

Great insight! The way they word these polls are almost leading customers in the direction they want them to go in. Would you rather sacrifice your firstborn or close the Post Office 1 day? It's a technique negotiators use. "The Choice" even though it's veiled and cryptic is ultimately the choice they give you to choose. How about they ask, "Would you rather the Post Office expand services to accommodate your modern needs or cut service altogether?" Get the point?

Anonymous said...

Do you realize if you stop Saturday delivery and a holiday falls on a Monday you will not get mail until Tues. Whre are savings by stopping Saturday delivery. I thought the postoffice gas prices are based on what the federal govt pays for their gas.

Anonymous said...

perhaps if the post office wasnt spending money it doesnt have to install the flat sorting machines thereby increasing its deficit, it may have the money to continue six delivery

John said...

Well. This really begs the question (and feeds the adage).

The American public (read 'consumer") aer not the true users of the post, hence the 'irrelevance' of the Postal Service. Better to ask the true users who integrate their marketing, and follow-up down the value chain with fulfillment, what is the value of a postal service.

Second; there is a reason soemoen said "you don't miss the water ...".