The mailroom of today is very different to that seen just a decade ago. Mail has evolved with new technologies helping to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds, while also providing more information and control for mailers, and more value and convenience for the end user.
Mailing technology is compressing delivery times and allowing an unprecedented level of customer targeting. As Ian Davidson, President Global Mailing Solutions Europe at Pitney Bowes, explains: “Today’s mail is intelligent. The United States Post Service (USPS) is driving the use of smart barcodes of every piece of mail or package. Mailers electronically transmit key information to the USPS before it’s dropped off to qualify for the best rates.
“In the UK, meanwhile, Royal Mail invested £70 million ($113 million) in automation to make mail work smarter and bring the future of mail to their customers through Mailmark, the intelligent bar code, which offers web-based reporting from an online analytics dashboard.”
Embedded within these barcodes is data on who is doing the mailing and where it’s going, for example. Barcodes are scanned as the mail is processed through key tracking points and fed back to the mailer. These tools help companies extract key business intelligence from the raw data.
“Destination tracking will let mailers know when mail will be opened,” says Davidson. “They can then coordinate this with a follow-up email or phone call at exactly the right time or staff their call centres to handle a spike associated with a direct mail piece that will hit on a certain date.”
Origin-tracking technology for incoming mail also lets businesses know when mail is on the way back, who is sending in a response to an offer or who is making a payment. “These valuable insights will help improve business performance,” adds Davidson. “Mailers can compare targeted in-home dates to actual dates, do a better job of anticipating cash flow by tracking remittances and they can effectively handle any client delivery question, resulting in a better customer experience.”
It’s no surprise that the huge boom in online shopping has led to a strong demand for packaging, labelling and mailroom essentials. “We’re seeing a shift towards mailroom products associated with the physical movement of goods,” reports Fiona Mills, Marketing Director at Avery UK.
“There has been a strong rise in entrepreneurial activity with an increase in start-up businesses, many of which trade online through eBay or Etsy. This has created demand for reliable, cost-effective mailroom supplies which help create a professional appearance. Avery’s Labels for Parcels & Packages are very popular for this reason – they are tough, durable and suitable for all types of parcel, yet can be customised with logos and company details using free online software and templates.”
Debbie Nice, Category Head, Facilities Supplies at UK wholesaler VOW, reports a growing sector too, with much of the rise due to internet trading and an increase in parcel traffic: “Padded bags and bubble envelopes continue to be big sellers, but we are also seeing an increase in sales for waterproof packaging and polythene envelopes, probably due to the upsurge in products being sent by carrier for home delivery – the main consumer demand is for a product that offers excellent protection at the best price. Innovative solutions, such as inflatable wrapping systems, are also on the rise – they offer improved protection, but minimise the required storage space at the distributor so are increasingly popular.”
Indeed, Sealed Air, which specialises in these protective packaging solutions, has experienced strong growth of 15-20% year on year in its mailroom product range since 2012.
Phil Jones, its Sales and Marketing Manager for Office Products Europe, says: “The Interactive Media in Retail Group, the UK’s e-commerce industry body, says online shopping is growing by about 16% a year at the moment. While offices are cutting back on traditional postal communication, they are expanding their product postings. All the major OP players have identified mailing and shipping products as an area of growth and have diversified their product ranges to include protective postal packaging solutions.”
He adds that its longstanding relationships with OP wholesalers across Europe meant Sealed Air was well positioned to benefit from this shift towards postal solutions. “Quick and simple packaging solutions, such as our Mail Lite Mailers, are crucial for efficiencies in an office environment.”
Kate Simpson, Communications Manager at Totalpost in the UK, flags up some more interesting new developments in the mailroom sector: “Increasingly, we are being asked to provide mailroom X-ray screening devices to enable staff to screen incoming mail before it is opened to ensure there are no undetected threats.”
She adds: “Concerns around sustainability have also led us to launched Mailmatch – a software addition to a letter printer which identifies scenarios when two different departments within a business are sending out separate letters to the same recipient, enabling letters to be merged into one envelope and saving on postage. We’ve also launched a hybrid mail service, whereby customers supply the letter and mailing database and we then print, collate and send the items out directly to the recipients, enabling the customer to get a mail run out very quickly.”
Stamping and marking devices are crucial elements of the mailroom product line-up and again, specialist Austrian manufacturer COLOP is reporting strong global business here. It’s expanded production by opening new facilities in the Czech Republic and is seeing increasing demand for its antibacterial products as health and hygiene plays an increasingly important role in all areas of the office. Franz Ratzenburger, Head of International Sales and Marketing, stresses that “COLOP products with built-in Microban protection should be used to prevent cross-contamination whenever a stamp is used by lots of people, such as in the mailroom”.
Despite the shift towards parcels and packages there’s still a clear demand for traditional postal communications too, with many situations – signed contracts, legal and formal letters, for example – still requiring a hard copy of documents.
Interestingly, Avery’s study in conjunction with London University also found that recipients of a letter feel more important and valued. Mills explains: “Consumers perceive a letter as something special. The average office worker receives 80 emails a day and they often go unread or are deleted. Only 15% of those who took part in our study carefully check emails, whereas 85% would read a letter far more carefully and found letters far more persuasive. Crucially, they were 40% more likely to respond positively to business propositions.”
Pitney Bowes’ Davidson see a blurring of the line between mailing and shipping: “High-value mailings, from bills and statements to financial and medical records, can be tracked and managed just like parcels.”
Direct mail is a good example of a medium that’s bridging the gap between the physical world and cyberspace. In the UK, according to the Direct Marketing Association’s report From letterbox to inbox, the top three actions consumers take after receiving a direct mail from a brand they are interested in are: 44% visit the brand’s website, 34% search online for more information about a product and 26% keep the mailing for future reference.
Davidson also sees tangible marketing mail helping to drive web traffic and adding to the explosive growth of e-commerce. This in turn drives record volumes of packages around the world reinforcing the benefits of sending out more marketing material – a kind of virtuous postal circle encompassing both the real and online worlds.
He adds: “Businesses can now take a truly multichannel approach combining an array of communication techniques to build customer relationships through email, mobile apps and QR codes, together with more traditional catalogues and mail shots. This makes it easier to conduct more effective marketing campaigns and reach prospects around the world.”
International postal services are undergoing significant change at the moment, with privatisation, increased competition or the loosening of regulatory chains forcing many to swiftly adapt.
In the UK, Royal Mail moved from state ownership into privatised hands in October 2013 and is fighting its corner in a competitive market. Its first ever TV advertising campaign has tried to emphasise its claim that online shoppers trust Royal Mail more than rival services to deliver their parcels safely. Half-year figures show parcels accounting for 51% of total group revenue, highlighting how important the mailroom/packaging industry has become.
And like their private-sector rivals, national postal services around the world are working hard to enhance their service offering. Services in Canada, Italy and Sweden have implemented variable-rate structures that offer discounts for business mailers using meters. In the States, the USPS is investing billions of dollars in new systems and equipment, from hand-held scanners and mobile delivery devices to sortation equipment and a new fleet of delivery vehicles.
Manufacturers that wouldn’t traditionally have been seen as players in this area are now teaming up with established providers to enter the mailroom sector.
In 2013 HSM of America won a major contract to supply shredders to leading mailing solutions firm Neopost USA. Neopost now offers a range of HSM shredders as part of its Office Security portfolio aimed at a diverse range of end users, from small businesses to large corporations and government departments. The partnership also includes HSM’s ProfiPack shredder which converts unwanted cardboard boxes into packaging material.
Todd Lipson, HSM’s VP of Sales & Marketing, says: “This is a unique space that we have recently entered. The opportunity to align HSM products to complement standard mailroom solutions has proven to be successful. It has allowed the end consumers to easily implement a secure document destruction process while using their mailroom solutions – something of increasing importance as security breaches and identity theft becomes more and more visible. We see continued growth with these types of partnerships that previously lay outside of our normal channels.”
Technology is changing how businesses do business and shipping and mailing solutions are playing a crucial part in this transformation.