Even the Postal Service is better at doing checkout than grocery stores now

January 2

The Postal Service faces a pretty dire budget situation, but in spite of that, officials there are still finding ways to make your visit less of a hassle.

Over the holiday, USPS began experimenting with a mobile point-of-sale tool that you might more commonly expect to find at a crowded Potbelly sandwich shop. IPods loaded with package scanners and credit-card readers handled more than 100,000 transactions across 50 post offices during the season, according to USPS. The new technology lets Postal Service agents take prepaid packages, sell postage and conduct other services while walking around the store.

Much as we think of the Postal Service as a way of getting items to our own doorstep, the mobile check-out upgrades are a reminder that USPS brings in a big chunk of its revenues from selling stuff at brick-and-mortar stores. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office found that post offices earned USPS some $10 billion. By contrast, in 2012 it made less than $250 million off sales from USPS.com.


(GAO)

“We’re now in the process of updating many of our retail technology platforms,” said USPS's vice president of retail, Kelly Sigmon. “New technology will make it easier for retail associates to better assist our customers.”

With the upgrade to mobile payments, the Postal Service has effectively leapfrogged ahead of tiresome checkout experiences at another American hallmark: supermarkets. I've written about grocery store checkouts before. But it bears repeating just how badly broken our traditional way of paying for retail has become — and how technology has created new and different ways for us to fix it.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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Brian Fung · January 2