Canada Post launches bilateral Internet plan

In an effort to ensure that e-mail doesn’t do to Canada Post Corp. what video did to the radio, the postal service has launched a two-pronged attack to both counter and embrace the Internet threat.

The Globe and Mail
March 14, 2000

Canada Post launches bilateral Internet plan
Ads tout letter writing as on-line pacts sought
Keith McArthur


In an effort to ensure that e-mail doesn’t do to Canada Post Corp. what video did to the radio, the postal service has launched a two-pronged attack to both counter and embrace the Internet threat.

On one hand, the 235-year-old Crown corporation has been working to fight technology with an ad campaign reminding Canadians that electronic mail doesn’t have the same romantic appeal as a traditional letter.

As the same time, Canada Post is embracing the New Economy with a series of initiatives designed to capitalize on the e-revolution – including forming partnerships with e-commerce sites to deliver goods purchased on the Internet.

The two-headed strategy make Canada Post look an awful lot like Dr. Doolittle’s fabled Push-Me/Pull-You, the llama with a head on each end that wanted to walk in opposite directions at the same time.

Canada Post acknowledges that it is moving two ways at once, but offers no apologies.

“We have to. We’ve got no choice. We’ve got to go where the business is,” spokesman John Caines said. “If you don’t, obviously, you’re going to be passed by.”

By most estimates, e-mail has quietly surpassed postage as the preferred method of communication in North America, as measured by volume of messages against letters sent.

Still, Canada Post’s overall numbers have not been adversely affected.

Canada Post delivered 9.6 billion pieces of mail in the fiscal year ended March 31, 1999, to ring up a profit of $50-million. That was up from 9.2 billion pieces of mail and $36-million in profit or fiscal 1997-98.

Even the volume of letter mail, which Canada Post defines as letters, bills and addressed junk mail – everything that isn’t parcels, advertisements and magazines – has been on the rise, accounting for about one in two pieces delivered last year.

But Canada Post doesn’t take the e-threat lightly.

It estimates that over the next five years, electronic communication will cause its letter mail count to shrink by about 750 million pieces or 15 per cent.

“What we know is going down is the person-to-person contact. That’s going down because of e-mail and fax machines,” Mr. Caines said.

The Crown corporation’s recent “nothing says it better than a letter” ad campaign, which ran in movie theatres and on television, was an effort to get people to send letters again.

“We very much try to push it at every chance we get – the actual art of letter writing and what it means to people,” Mr. Caines said.

At the same time, Canada Post realizes that electronic communications is here to stay, he said. As a result, it has unveiled a range of initiatives to capitalize on the Internet:

  • Last fall, Canada Post unveiled e-post, a service that allows people to get bills by e-mail. While the service is free to customers, Canada Post will charge a fee to businesses that take advantage of it.
  • You can already buy stamps on-line. And Canada Post is running a pilot project in Alberta allowing businesses to buy postage on-line, which is printed directly onto mail with a regular on-site printer.

But he postal service’s most significant adaptation may be the steps it is taking to boost revenue by delivering goods from e-commerce sites.

“With the dawn of the Internet and the growth of e-commerce, we figure this is going to be a major thrust for us,” spokesman Rhéal LeBlanc said.

Canada Post already delivers for some of the biggest names in Canadian dot-commerce, including Chapters Online Inc., La Senza and Sears Canada Inc. It estimates that e-commerce will push annual revenue from parcel delivery by $350-million or 20 per cent within five years.

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