Sometime in the next month, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) will complete their review of how the United States Postal Service (USPS) sets postage rates. There have been strong protests from several mailer associations against allowing the USPS to increase rates for Market Dominant products beyond the rate of inflation. On the other hand, the USPS has argued that the existing rules prevent them from establishing the rates necessary to cover their expenses.
As the prospects for legislative postal reform remain dim, the USPS needs more flexibility in setting rates. The CPI is a poor standard to use for postage rates, as most of the USPS expenses are for transportation and personnel. The price index for gas has consistently risen higher than CPI, as have health insurance rates. Ending the CPI cap will put the USPS on a stronger financial footing.
The PRC hasn’t indicated what their decision might be. They could leave the cap in place, they could modify the cap, or they could remove the cap altogether. Whatever they do, the USPS will then develop the proposed rates for 2018, probably releasing the pricing in October.
For most companies, October is too late in the planning cycle. Many of our clients are already submitting their preliminary 2018 budgets. For the past decade, managers could look up the CPI, add a few points as a buffer, and calculate their future postage costs. With no PRC decision, there are no guideposts to follow.
Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. Especially when it comes to political bodies like the PRC. However, not planning for the future is the hallmark of a fool. What’s a manager to do?
It’s probable that the PRC will lift the price cap on Market Dominant prices, with some type of controls. Postmaster General Brennan has repeatedly stated that the USPS want to grow the business of mail. A drastic rate increase won’t help them reach that goal.
A reasonable rate increase would be 5%. This would bring rates close to where they would be if the Exigent Rate Increase wasn’t rolled back in 2016. Also, it’s consistent with the annual rate increases of both FedEx and UPS – not including the holiday surcharge both companies recently announced.
Most managers are asked to reduce spending, and a significant rate increase will be unwelcome news. Savvy leaders will need to look for other methods of limiting the impact. That starts with taking advantage of the heavier weights allowed for machinable letter mail. Mailings should be combined and householded to a single envelope. Wherever possible, flats that weigh less than 3.5 ounces should be redesigned for 6 x 9 letter envelopes.
Mailers need to take a second look at the Promotions & Incentive Programs for First-Class & USPS Marketing Mail. Savings that seemed small before will be key to offset additional expenses. Mail service providers can add value to relationships by finding ways to easily enroll customers in these programs.
While no one knows the amount, postage rates will increase in 2018. Managers should budget and plan accordingly.