Two weeks ago, I tried to send an important letter for overnight delivery at my local post office. Imagine my surprise when I was told that “overnight delivery” would get there in two days. What is going on?

It turns out that the U.S. Postal Service has downgraded their delivery standards not once, but twice in the last 4 years. Back in 2011, for example, they promised to deliver a first-class letter within your section of the country (approximately 1/200th of the U.S.) the next day. If the mail processing facility closest to the letter’s destination was within a 12 hour drive, it would be delivered within two days. In July, 2012, they narrowed their standards for both overnight and two-day delivery, only promising two-day delivery if facilities were within a 6-hour drive of each other, for example.

Phase II of these changes took effect on January 5, 2015 when the USPS eliminated the standard requiring next-day delivery for any individual first class mail. The 2012 change weakened delivery standards for 28% of first class mail; the percentage of mail affected by Phase II was at least another 35%.

These changes have been made to reduce costs. Due to the outcry in 2011 when the USPS proposed ending Saturday mail delivery, that idea was shelved. However, the postal service has moved forward with other cost-savings measures. They’ve closed 500 local post offices and dramatically reduced hours at thousands of others, eliminated 29% of the 487 mail processing facilities and announced plans to close another 82, and decreased the amount of mail being shipped by air, relying on trucks instead.

These upheavals led to such massive slowdowns in mail delivery that the percentage of mail meeting even the latest reduced standards has skyrocketed this year. During the April to June 2015 quarter, 5.8% of mail supposed to be delivered in two days under the relaxed standards was late, as was a whopping 22.9% of mail falling under the 3-5 day standard.

The problem was so severe that the Inspector General recommended that the postal service stop closing mail processing facilities until they figure out how to improve service. While the USPS is temporarily complying with this order, there’s little doubt they’ll continue to look for ways to cut costs even if they lead to further increases in mail delivery times.

Bulk Mail Slowdowns

Similar slow-downs are occurring in the delivery of bulk (standard-rate) mail. However, unlike individual consumers, direct mailers have the option to speed up their mail delivery by using commingling or drop shipping to bypass most of the intermediate mail processing facilities. Our research shows that mail commingled by MailSmart Logistics arrived 2.4 days faster in 2014 than mail dropped off at the local bulk mail entry unit. Following the latest relaxation in USPS delivery standards, the difference may be even greater today.

If you’d like to learn more about commingling, please download our free guide:


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