Postal Updates

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

Postal customers shun self-service machines

January 31, 2014 08:16 AM

Those costly blue self-service postal kiosks found in more than 2,300 post offices nationwide are failing to save the financially troubled United States Postal Service millions of dollars each year. That’s the conclusion of a new report by the USPS inspector general, who found that the machines are being shunned by customers who apparently prefer window clerks.

The new report, “Self Service Kiosks,” was rejected by the USPS vice president in charge of delivery and post office operations, who charged that the inspector general’s math was wrong when it came to the potential savings the machines could give.

Once called automated postal centers, the self-service machines are a key element in Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s plan to cut down on the number of transactions conducted by clerks and to offer around-the-clock package service in many post offices. The Postal Service placed about 2,500 kiosks in about 2,300 post offices 10 years ago. In fiscal 2013, the agency deployed an additional 264 machines, the report said.

The machines are capable of conducting “about 80 percent of those transactions normally handled by a retail window clerk,” including stamp sales and weighing packages. The new report, dated Jan. 22, said that most kiosks are accessible 24 hours, seven days a week. But usage of the machines was 8.9 percent below the USPS goal of 35 percent of lobby customers in fiscal 2013, the report said.

The auditors blamed “several factors, including inconsistent signage, positioning of the SSKs in partially obscured locations” and lobby assistants who were not well trained in how to use the machines.

The report suggested that the Postal Service could save about $12 million a year if it could eliminate about 249,877 window service work hours by increasing the machine’s usage.

It also said the Postal Service sustained a loss of $341,000 in destroyed or lost shipping labels because of a software problem that prevented the kiosks from alerting workers of its paper levels.

Initially, the Postal Service assumed the machines would be user friendly and customers could easily perform most purchases on their own.

But many post offices have discovered it is necessary to have a “lobby assistant” to help customers use the machines.

In rejecting the inspector general’s latest study of the machines, two USPS vice presidents urged the training and deployment of more lobby assistants as the best way to increase use of the machines.