Postal Updates

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

Oregon firm creates a device to help save the USPS

October 31, 2014 03:40 PM

Ziba, a design company based in Oregon, has created a device it says will help save the financially troubled United States Postal Service.

The device, called Signet, has attracted the attention of Wired Magazine, NBC News and other media.

Signet is a small, round device about the size of two old 35-millimeter film canisters that would etch a personal code or pattern on to a parcel.

Using a computer application, the mailer would advise the Postal Service he wants to send the parcel to a particular individual.

The USPS would then locate the person’s address, pick up the parcel and route the parcel to him.

The way Ziba tells it, this is a simpler mailing process the Portland design firm says it created without any help from the Postal Service.

“We were able to modernize the USPS in the process, while making shipping more personal and natural,” Ziba spokeswoman Kathleen Mazzocco told Linn’s in an e-mail message.

“There was no contact with USPS on this project,” she said.

If Ziba had checked with the USPS it would have discovered that parcels are the one bright spot in its product line.

While first-class mail has plummeted, parcels are booming and have been a major focus of Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s efforts to create a smaller, but viable Postal Service.

Whether the USPS would be willing to buy into a project that appears to be designed for moving personal — as opposed to business — packages could be questionable.

Ziba is likely one of many prospective vendors who are thrusting ideas at the Postal Service as it struggles to find additional sources of revenue to replace its historic dependence on first-class mail.

Ziba’s understanding of what its mailing system would need to become operational might be understated.

“When you look at Signet, you will understand that it is not very futuristic,” Mazzocco said. “Indeed, it would be possible to execute almost immediately.”

Perhaps that would be true for an enterprise with huge cash resources, but that is not the USPS.

For all its current financial difficulties, parcels are an area where USPS has made some significant innovations to make it easier for the small-time mailer to get parcels out the door.

Its Click and Ship program provides customized labels for shipping, and its carriers will pick up such parcels at no cost to the mailer.

A project like Signet would require an investment in computer programming that probably is out of the question for the Postal Service these days. It just finally found money to begin replacing its aging truck delivery fleet.

And at the pay levels for postal clerks, the Postal Service does not have time for them to search for mailing addresses for individual parcels.

The USPS does have a detailed national address system based on its ZIP code system that has been in place for more than 50 years. It is the same system used by all commercial packaging services, FedEx, UPS and others.

Wired Magazine did not probe into whether USPS could afford Signet.

It said: “The most tangible change would be replacing physical stamps with these unique, etched identifiers that would help dynamically route a package. Otherwise, a piece of mail flows through the system just as it always did.”

Actually, as most stamp collectors would tell Ziba, stamps have been pushed off packages for years.

Machines have been generating postage indicia, and the Click and Ship program now creates entire shipping labels with postage.

In other words, don’t expect postal officials to get very excited over Signet.