It may come as a bit of a surprise to those who have fully embraced the techie lifestyle that millions of people still use snail mail – and they’re not just star-crossed lovers exchanging romantic correspondence. If you’re still getting credit card solicitations in the mail, it means that the big banks must still be getting many responses, or else they wouldn’t be running these direct mail campaigns. Despite its historically poor service and owing billions of dollars in debt, the United States Postal Service (USPS) remains the country’s second top civilian employer. Snail mail is alive and kicking. Researchers from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom found that the use of emails, online forums and social networking actually encourages people to make new and exciting ways to facilitate the exchange of paper-based media.
Unpost and digitize your snail mail with Outbox.
If you have a desk job, your work day probably starts with checking your email inbox. But even if you have applications that help you manage your mail, it is still possible for you to miss one or two from time to time. Since your snail mail probably receives less attention, managing your real-world mailbox can be a hassle. Startup company Outbox can convert your paper mail into email for just $5 ($4.99 to be exact) per month. Outbox founders Evan Baehr and Will Davis, both products of the Harvard Business School, believe that their company will help reinvent the USPS and disrupt volume mail delivery.
This is how the service works: after signing up for Outbox either for an individual plan (mail sent to one name gets collected and digitized) or a household plan (all the main at a given address is collected and digitized), “unpostmen” will swing by your mailbox thrice a week to collect your snail mail. Your mail is taken back to the Outbox office, where it is opened, sorted, scanned, and digitized so you can access it using your personal computer, smartphone or tablet. After viewing your digitized snail mail via the Outbox app, you can choose those you want sent to you physically – like personal, handwritten letters – and have those you don’t want shredded and recycled. Of course, packages from Amazon or eBay will be sent to you without delay.
Too good to be true?
After a positive response in Austin, Texas in 2012, Outbox began offering its services to certain zip codes in San Francisco last February, and will probably roll out nationwide within the next few months. The service can help save millions of dollars because Outbox can work with major billers so they can send digital copies of bills to recipients instead of printing out paper bills and mailing them, where they just end up in the trash or stored.
Having your physical mail transformed into email is as useful as being able to send an Internet fax – phone service. But can the Outbox experiment really help change the snail mail experience? When it comes to getting your mail on time, we all know how the USPS works. If it normally takes about a week for mail from the East coast to get to the West coast, wouldn’t it take longer if you use Outbox because the unpostmen only come thrice a week to get your snail mail for digitizing? That would make the turnaround time longer. With regards to bill management, Outbox won’t turn your paper bills into true digital bills – the service will just generate images of your bill, which you would have to check in a different inbox. Besides, many companies nowadays provide you with an electronic billing option.
Potential privacy and security issues are the major concerns with Outbox. You’re allowing other people to peer into your mail for crying out loud. That’s essentially signing over your privacy. Even if Outbox says that its people will go under more rigorous background checks than USPS employees, this still doesn’t eliminate the risk of identity theft and fraud. How Outbox will maintain a very professional operation with the best people and equipment by charging a subscriber only $4.99 remains to be seen. At this point, this new service seems to have the potential to cause more problems than actually providing solutions.