Rise of the Grocery Machines

ATMs

With each passing year, mechanization is becoming more commonplace in businesses that were once considered difficult to automate. As the interaction between customers and employees diminishes, does the experience one receives from automation reduce the satisfaction of the transaction?

Recently, Oasis24seven announced that it would soon install the first fully-automated convenience store in Des Moines, IA. Designed to function as an outdoor vending machine of large-scale proportion, the stores will feature anywhere from 200-800 items that range in size from 1oz to 10lbs. The store will be open 24 hours per day, seven days per week and be controlled by a user friendly interface terminal. Customers of the store can also see available items on store shelves through thick glass protecting the temperature-controlled environment. No employees will work at the store, and all customer interaction with the store will be conducted through the interactive control screen.

Items at a fully automated store can be purchased through electronic forms of payment and dispensed in a large slot next to the control screen. Products that reach expiration will automatically be removed from store shelves and become unavailable for purchase.

While this fully automated convenience store will be the first of its kind when it opens for business, it won’t be entirely unfamiliar for consumers. Individuals have used a growing number of machines to conduct transaction over the years, and customer to machine interaction is becoming commonplace. Individuals can order many items through machines such as DVDs and game rentals, made-to-order keys, and lottery tickets. These were all available exclusively over the counter not long ago. Consumers also use self-checkout lanes at grocery stores, and in some locations, order fast food items through interactive kiosks.

With the continued proliferation of machines and high-tech automation, human to human interaction for transactions may one day become a thing of the past.

Do you think interacting with machines to conduct business transactions is a less satisfying experience than human face-to-face contact?

Crowd GPS Could be Beacon of the Future

Crowd GPS

New innovations in technology have created the ability to track items that individuals may have misplaced. From lost keys to vanishing remote controls, finding objects can sometimes prove difficult if one’s memory isn’t functioning at full capacity. When that happens, there are a variety of companies that have developed devices to track such missing items with a simple press of a button.

Manufacturers such as TrackR, Tile, and Bringrr offer a similar product – small, thin objects roughly the size of a quarter that can be attached to items an individual wants to track. The objects connect with a user’s phone via Bluetooth technology and a specialized application tracking software. If a person loses a set of key with a tracking object attached, the individual can locate the item through the application. These tracking objects have a limited range of about 100-150 feet though, so they have to use a crowd GPS feature to find items further out of reach.

Unlike GPS-enabled navigation devices, crowd GPS doesn’t use a satellite to locate objects. Instead, it relies on other phones using the same tracking software. These applications connect with sibling applications on other phones, establishing a global network to track missing items within range of a phone connected to the network. The information shared among other phones in the network is anonymous, and only an individual’s lost object location will appear on that person’s phone, if it’s detected.

There is a downside to crowd GPS. If someone loses an item outside the range of his or her phone, that person must rely on the presence of another phone running the same application to be in close proximity to the missing item. In densely populated cities, this might not be an issue. But for individuals living in smaller communities, it might be some time before another phone with the same application picks up the missing item.

The purchase of a tracking chip could very well be worth the expense for those keys, remotes and other objects that have a tendency to disappear from time to time. Then again, if one forgets both the location of the tracking chip and cell phone, the situation could prove problematic.

Do you think such tracking devices could be used to track packages as they make their way through a delivery network?

Happy Independence Day Eve!

July4th 2015

Forget Me Not

Missing children

Affirming its long-standing commitment to help find missing children, the U.S. Postal Service® issues this new stamp to make members of the public more aware of the ways they can assist-and to offer hope to the families of missing children as they continue their search.

More than 460,000 reports of missing children were made to law enforcement in the United States in 2014. Fortunately, loved ones have reason for hope: Increased public awareness, training, laws, and technology have led to more missing children coming home now than at any other point in history. For three decades, the U.S. Postal Service has also been honored to help with the search, cooperating with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Valassis Communications, Inc., on a program that features photographs of missing children on advertising materials delivered to millions of American homes. To date, about 1,900 of the nearly 3,300 children featured on these mailings have been recovered, at least 157 as a direct result of this program.

In addition, the U.S. Postal Service publishes photos and information about missing children in the Postal Bulletin, which adds some 700,000 employees to the search effort.

The Forget-Me-Not Forever Stamps are now available at usps.com/stamps, at the Postal Store, at 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724) and at Post Offices nationwide.

Crowdsourced Delivery

smart car

The popularity of crowdfunding websites has grown significantly over the past several years. Many projects such as movies, books, games and more have been funded by individuals interested in donating money to the cause, usually in exchange for a form of compensation directly tied to the success of the project. In a version of the crowdsourcing phenomenon, one particular e-tailer is looking to modify the concept to suit another purpose.

Capitalizing on the proliferation of smartphones, Amazon in developing a mobile application that will allow individuals who want to earn a little extra cash the chance to do so by delivering packages. Designed to cut growing shipping costs for the company, the application will give drivers the opportunity to pick up a package for an Amazon customer and deliver it quickly to its destination. A driver will only receive packages for delivery with destinations that are closely aligned with the driver’s existing plans.

Theoretically, a driver using the application could pick up an Amazon package and deliver it to a customer on the way to work, on the way home from work, or even on the way to a dinner date. While specifics on the application and how it works are still in development, its success hinges largely on consistently reliable drivers and the ability to deliver a product on time.

If it’s successfully executed, do you think Amazon’s croudsourced package delivery could be a prototype delivery model of the future?

Digital Crystal Ball

Digital crystal ball

For many people, checking email is part of the daily ritual of staying in contact with friends and family, conducting business transactions, and checking the latest ads from frequented website vendors. If one postal organization implements a new program, it could also mean checking your email for a glimpse into future.

Currently in the test phase of development, Real Mail Notification is a new program designed to send Postal Service customers an email notification that contains images of items that will arrive in the mail along with a time of delivery. Images will include actual photos of mail covers such as letters and advertising pieces, not contents included in the items. Email notifications can be accessed on any device a customer would normally view emails, and can be archived or printed as an individual would any other email message.

Enhanced visibility is a vital component of future technological innovations as the demand for greater transparency in transactions continues to increase. Online retailers use similar tools to inform customers when they’ve made a purchase and when an item is shipped from the store. The process not only keeps customers up to date on important activity, it might also help identity fraudulent activity.

If a fraudster conducts a transaction with someone else’s web-based account, the real owner will receive an email regarding the transaction, so long as the fraudster hasn’t changed the email address. Similarly, if a postal customer receives an email that an item will arrive in the mailbox at a certain time, but the item isn’t there when checked later that evening after it should have arrived, a person can take action to determine if it was removed by an unauthorized individual.

As virtual and physical worlds continue to move closer together each year, the public reaps the benefits of the merging realms.

Do you think email notification of soon-to-be-delivered mail will be a valuable tool for you?

Could Packages Be the Next Advertising Opportunity?

Package ad

 

They’re abundant in auto racing, cycling, and on many hats and shirts of tournament poker players. They cover bulletin boards, buildings and stadiums. Wherever they’re placed, advertising logos and messages capture the attention of many who come across them. With the continued proliferation of ads, could packages present a new surface to sell advertising space?

To boost awareness of the soon to be released Minions movie, Amazon.com has developed new packaging in which to send consumer goods. The new, yellow boxes feature unique characters from the movie and will grace Amazon packaging through the release date of the movie in theaters.

According to its latest Form 10-Q financial statement, Amazon.com incurred than $1 billion in net shipping costs during the first three months of 2015. Revenue generated from the new Minions advertising campaign may have the effect of partially offsetting the loss in shipping charges that currently burdens Amazon revenue, though it’s unlikely to have a significant impact with the single ad campaign effort.

If other product providers find value in making similar moves with product packaging, parcel carriers may soon find their vehicles loaded with everything from superhero characters to spaceships and laser swords later this year.

Do you think USPS packaging should contain ads for non-organization-related products to generate additional revenue?

Missing Numbers No Problem for Determined Employee

Manilla Post Office Retail Associate Tammy Gangestad.

Manilla Post Office Retail Associate Tammy Gangestad.

Recently, a Priority Mail padded envelope arrived at the Manilla, IA, Post Office with a damaged label. To make matters worse, the address, name, and tracking number were smeared. While this might have normally prevented the envelope from reaching its intended destination in a timely manner, Retail Associate Tammy Gangestad didn’t give up.

She found that a majority of the tracking number was still visible, and paired that information with a variety of number sequences to replace the missing data until she found the combination that gave her the needed mailpiece information.

With the tracking number in hand, Gangestad was able to replace the bad label on the envelope with a new one. Thanks to her diligent efforts, the package found its way home. When asked why she went to such great lengths to obtain the customer’s address, Gangestad stated, “We always try and go above and beyond to ensure our customers receive excellent service!”

Behind the Customer Relations Curtain

CRC Roger Humphries with ESPN College Football Analyst Lee Corso.

CRC Roger Humphries with ESPN College Football Analyst Lee Corso.

As the Customer Relations Coordinator (CRC) for the Omaha Post Office, Roger Humphries is on the phone with customers much of the day. He approaches each conversation as an opportunity to meet or exceed customer expectations. It’s a special skill set and one he has honed through the years. His advice?

“Listen to the customer,” said Humphries. “We tend to rush to provide an answer or make an excuse without hearing the real concern of a customer. Investigate the concern, develop a response or solution and get back to them in a timely manner.”

Humphries is also an ambassador for the USPS, coordinating stamp events and activities in the community. As a postal spokesman, he is on a first name basis with most media in town.

When he’s not at work, Humphries can be found in his community serving on various boards, including Downtown Omaha Inc., Omaha-Lincoln Federal Executive Association and the Blue Line Club for University of Nebraska Omaha Hockey. He is a member of the Distribution Committee of Foodbank for the Heartland after serving on the board for 17 years. He is a proud member of Leadership Omaha, and is a free-lance photographer for Metro Magazine.

“The CRC position exposed me to the side of the community I had not been involved in before,” said Humphries, who began his postal career in 1977 as a casual clerk. “I found that I could make a difference not only in my neighborhood, but the overall community as well.  And because of my actions, my two children grew up volunteering. As adults, they have continued to do so.”

His work-ethic, passion for the USPS and Omaha, and keen sense of humor has endeared him to others.

“Roger has been an icon and fixture for us in Omaha and outstanding in his customer service role,” said District Manager Rick Pivovar.

“We couldn’t have a better ambassador for the Omaha Post Office as we do in Roger,” said Omaha Postmaster Keith Reid.

Powerful Showing at Twin Falls Powerlifting Challenge

Postmaster Mike Brownfield (left) received a plaque for his bench press prowess.

Postmaster Mike Brownfield (left) received a plaque for his bench press prowess.

During the recent 3rd Annual Magic Valley Powerlifting Challenge in Twin Falls, ID, powerlifters from around the state gathered to demonstrate their abilities. Those who excelled in their lifting categories have the opportunity to compete in future championship events. One individual from the Postal Service participated in the contests and pushed past the competition.

Caldwell, ID, Postmaster Mike Brownfield competed in the challenge to great success. He set an American record in the open and masters by bench pressing 473 pounds. Besides the challenge of the competition, Brownfield enjoys weightlifting to help him keep in shape. He credits the attention to controlling his weight to the requirements set by the competition.

Brownfield achieved his best personal performance to date during the competition, and looks forward to future challenges to continue taking his lifting to the next level.

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