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Finding follow-up story angles to postal-service changes

No mail no SaturdayNeither rain, nor sleet nor… other bad weather will keep the mail carrier from her appointed rounds, but a tsunami of red ink will.

The announcement that the United States Postal Service  will withdraw from first-class Saturday mail delivery has to be chilling for some businesses and for some consumers, though it appears package delivery will survive — meaning companies like Amazon.com and mail-order pharmaceutical providers may breathe a little more easily.

It’s another blow to the greeting card industry, however, which already is suffering from the growth of digital messages and the disinclination of time-strapped well-wishers to muster up a card, stamp and postal address for special occasions.  Hallmark hired lobbyists to argue for continued Saturday service, and on Thursday questioned whether curtailed delivery really would save money.

The Greeting Card Association has published an upbeat fact page about the industry; it says Americans still are purchasing about 6.5 billion cards a year, generating $7-8 billion in retail sales. (Which is perplexing, becasue most cards I pick up, even at the supermarket, are $3 or more; you’d think 6 billion cards would generate a lot more revenue.  What are they counting as cards?)

If you’re looking for a second-day story and don’t have a major greeting card publisher in your market, why not take a look at how card shops are faring these days?   According to this 2011 Los Angeles Times story, they’re dwindling. (Talk with retail real-estate operators as well as the owners/franchisors of the stores.)   And increasingly, they’re branching out into new lines of merchandise; one venerable card store near me now is more like a kitchen-utensil store with a small card selection off to the side; another actually is selling clothing and moderately-priced jewelry with, again, the cards stashed in the back.   What is their take on the Saturday-delivery decision?  What sorts of consumers are they wooing today, and how?  You might also check Etsy and eBay for makers of hand-crafted cards from your region and ask about their sales trends.

Old wooden mailbox

Photo: Sequim Daily Photo

Periodicals may also suffer from slow mail delivery; I noticed one commentor on a newspaper site declare he’s throwing in the towel and going digital rather than wait an extra few days for an out-of-town subscription.  Weeklies will probably fare the worst because their shelf life is so short; check around with publishers near you about alternative distribution plans.

People awaiting money through the mail might also take umbrage; Social Security is going paperless March 1 (another story nugget there) and most other benefits are paid electronically, but others from freelance workers to landlords to people who still mail their bill payments via USPS might be chagrined at the need to juggle around service-less Saturday.  (And keep in mind there are six weekends a year when federal holidays that fall on Monday will stretch the mail void even further.)

Here’s a hot-off-the-press Marketwatch article on other ways the change might affect consumers; Netflix doesn’t seem to care, though, and some analysts predict the slower DVD delivery might just drive more people to the Internet streaming service, which Netflix probably prefers.

And Benzinga offers a look at which publicly traded companies stand to gain or lose from the switch.  I wonder if local courier services will pick up any business from individuals and consumers sending cross-town or in-state shipments; that’s another area to check.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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