Saturday, June 25, 2011

Canada Post labour dispute: a teachable moment

The mail is supposed to go in right where it says 'Closed / Fermé'.
Take your business elsewhere.

The labour dispute isn't good for Canada Post's main business, but there is some environmental upside to reducing the amount of unnecessary paper mail.
The postal system is pretty impressive. Moving pieces of paper around the country is a pretty tough gig. You have to keep them sorted and deliver them on time for pennies an item.
It's economical too. For $1.75 you can put an envelope or a postcard in a box near your house and have it delivered to another box pretty much anywhere in the world. Fifty-nine cents if it's in Canada. Most of the time it gets there just fine.
At the outset, it's a tremendous value proposition: You don't have to deliver things yourself. We'll do it for you. It saves you the time and hassle of delivering the letter or parcel, which is a good deal across town and a great deal across the country.
Canada Post last went on strike in 1997. The internet was still pretty new, and long distance phone calls were still expensive. Business got done by sending out bills and putting cheques in the mail. A postal strike would shut down vast swaths of commerce.
That power to shut down commerce is gone. Even before the strike/lockout companies were encouraging customers to switch to electronic billing. Online billing is common enough that many more people would switch over now if they only had a reason. 
Here's one: The mail stopped coming. 
If customer complacency is a major force keeping Canada Post in market share, service disruptions that force its customers to experiment with new ways of doing things isn't in its best interest. For example, if there was a transit strike and former riders got in the habit of biking or driving to work, it would be tough to get them back.
The learning and effort to switch between systems is a barrier to change, but this disruption will send some formerly steady customers to seek electronic solutions.
The inevitable loss of letter volumes through the post will reduce the costs of doing business for companies who move beyond the mail service. Moving information around on the internet is much cheaper than moving physical pieces of paper.
This lurch to adopt electronic options will help the environment by reducing non-essential paper use and help the bottom line for businesses who won't have to pay to mail quite as many things.
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