With USPS Informed Delivery, I can see my bills and junk mail sooner

I recently signed up for Informed Delivery with the United States Postal Service. In theory, this is a cool service as you can preview your mail and packages earlier in the day. Each morning, I get an email with scanned images of my coming mail.

Yet, my experience with it is not that fun. I get to see the pieces of mail I do not like – bills and junk mail – ahead of them arriving in my mailbox. Thus far, I have not seen an exciting piece of mail ahead of time. I can look forward to the latest politician who wants to send me a glossy flyer

This is not the fault of the USPS. I need to get involved in streams of more exciting mail. But, it also hints at what the mail is used for now: personal letters and cards can go via email, packages largely go through deliveries to doors rather than mailboxes, and what is left is largely less interesting.

Netflix’s distribution problems

Netflix has had a lot of bad press in the last few months.  First, they decided to split their online-only streaming service from their mailed disc service, substantially increasing their customer’s prices.  Second, word came that they are losing their Starz distribution agreement, which will severely curtail the availability of (genuinely) recent movies on their streaming service.

Now, here comes a potential supply shock on the physical distribution side:

The United States Postal Service has long lived on the financial edge, but it has never been as close to the precipice as it is today: the agency is so low on cash that it will not be able to make a $5.5 billion payment due this month and may have to shut down entirely this winter unless Congress takes emergency action to stabilize its finances….

Missing the $5.5 billion payment due on Sept. 30, intended to finance retirees’ future health care, won’t cause immediate disaster. But sometime early next year, the agency will run out of money to pay its employees and gas up its trucks, officials warn, forcing it to stop delivering the roughly three billion pieces of mail it handles weekly.

To be sure, a long-term interruption in mail service would be an economic catastrophe extending well beyond Netflix.  Nonetheless, viewing this problem from Netflix’s perspective shows just how dependent even web-savvy companies are on physical infrastructure and distribution systems.  There will be a lot of collateral damage if businesses can no longer count on a robust and dependable USPS.