Waiting for mail delivery is so old school. Now you can check what the carrier plans to put in your mailbox hours before it arrives, thanks to a digital initiative from the US Postal Service (USPS).

Called Informed Delivery, the free and optional notification service infuses effectively converges physical and digital worlds.

USPS Adds Digital Features to Mail

Informed Delivery provides eligible residential consumers with a digital preview of their household’s daily mail and packages. Users can view grayscale images of the exterior, address side of their incoming letter-sized mailpieces by email or an online dashboard.

It’s designed to make traditional mail delivery more convenient — and “ensure mail remains relevant and viable by merging physical mail with digital features.”

In a broader context, it underscores the imperative of digital transformation. Think about it. If the second oldest US federal agency recognizes the necessity to embrace digital, shouldn’t you?

Erasing the Physical, Digital Divide

If any business needs to reinvent itself in the digital era, it’s the USPS.

From 2006 to 2015, the Postal Service experienced a decline of about 59 billion total mail pieces due to electronic diversion, the economic recession, and changing customer expectations. There’s simply less demand for printed materials in a digital world?

What’s the lesson? In short, traditional businesses need to evolve to adapt to the realities of a networked world, where customers expect speed, convenience, and efficient service.

As Darrell Rigby, a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Co. once wrote, “Customers have changed: They now weave their digital and physical worlds so tightly together that they can’t fathom why companies haven’t done the same.”

Omnichannel Expectations

Customers shop when and where they want, balancing convenience, discounts, and experience. They switch from digital to physical and back with ease — and expect a unified, omnichannel experience.

For businesses that want to remain relevant, channel convergence is a must. At the USPS, for example, this means balancing challenges and opportunities.

  1. Businesses will continue to conduct more transactions electronically, reducing the volume of First-Class Mail.
  2. But the exponential growth of ecommerce will simultaneously drive higher package volumes. It will also increase competition in first and “last mile” delivery services, especially from competitive carriers using part-time on-demand workers.

The goal is to adapt to these realities while providing “a positive experience, no matter when, where, or how customers do business with us,” the USPS concludes. It continued:

“Customers expect timely, reliable, and accurate delivery service at reasonable prices. … They also want personal, simple, customizable, mobile, and secure services. Being ‘good enough’ is not sufficient to attract new customers and increase customer loyalty.

“We must deliver excellent and consistent customer experiences at every customer touchpoint.”

Physical, Digital Convergence

So what do you get when you blend digital technology with the physical world?

You can call it digical — a term Bain coined in 2014. You can call it phygital — the latest buzzword to describe the blended physical-digital world.

But maybe the best thing to call it is the way we live and work and play today. Just as we’ve blurred the lines between our homes and our offices, we’ve blurred the distinction between digital and physical.

Non-Linear, Seamless Experiences

The evidence is all around us.

  • Today, customers follow a non-linear path when it comes to shopping. “They research about the product; go to a physical store to check that out; then buy it from the mobile requesting for delivery.”
  • “Brick-and-mortar stores become fulfillment and return centers for online orders. And, consumers have the same experience online as they do in the store. It’s all one seamless coherent experience.”
  • “Companies can now gather vast datasets from physical assets and facilities in real time, perform advanced analytics on them to generate new insights, and use those insights to make better decisions, develop strategies, and create efficiencies.”

Gartner identifies blending the physical and digital worlds as one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2018.

“The continuing digital business evolution exploits emerging and strategic technologies to integrate the physical and digital worlds, and create entirely new business models. The future will be defined by smart devices delivering increasingly insightful digital services everywhere,” the report explains.

The world has changed. Even the Postal Service knows it. But they’ve been here before: Imagine if the USPS was still delivering mail by the Pony Express?