Reforming the Postal Sector in the Face of Electronic Competition
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Reforming the Postal Sector in the Face of Electronic Competition

Edited by Michael A. Crew and Paul R. Kleindorfer

In our increasingly technology-focused world, demand for traditional postal services is steadily shrinking. This timely volume examines the many challenges that the worldwide postal sector is facing as a result of growing electronic competition, and offers expert recommendations for reshaping postal structures to strengthen their competitiveness in an electronic age.
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Chapter 13: Electronic substitution and USO scope definition

Marcello Cuomo, Tommaso Nardone, Alberto Rovero and Gennaro Scarfiglieri


Postal markets worldwide are experiencing a long-term trend of decreasing mail volumes as a consequence of e-substitution. Such a trend is likely to be exacerbated over the coming years by a prolonged situation of economic crises. Mail volume reduction, in turn, causes a continuous uptrend in the unit costs of mail, since fixed costs of production are spread over fewer volumes. The increase in unit costs is greater for universal service providers (USPs), since such an obligation makes their cost structure more rigid. USPs cannot balance the increase in unit cost with price increases: such an increase, in fact, would accelerate e-substitution and might result also in the loss of volumes to competitors. Increasing prices may not be the answer as the reduced volume resulting would lead to a further increase in unit costs, potentially triggering a graveyard spiral. Under the condition that the firm providing the service is free to adapt its service level and its base cost to worsening conditions, it is still possible to work out ways to render the firm financially viable. However, the requirement to provide a universal service (national geographical delivery coverage, six days a week service, J11 service) imposes a number of rigidities on the cost structure of the USP that seriously threaten its financial viability. A USP may well find itself with a shrinking gap between its unit cost and unit revenue that cannot be dealt with, unless universal service requirements are changed.

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