On Tuesday's CBS Early Show, correspondent Michelle Miller reported on planned closures of 2,000 U.S. Post Office locations: "...in this age of digital communications, online bill paying, and Federal Express, are physical post offices still relevant?" She seemed to answer her own question: "Folks are not going to let this go down without a fight...It's what makes their community whole."
During her report, Miller explained how the government subsidized organization had "a record deficit this year of $8.5 billion, the Postal Service loses a staggering $23 million a day and is facing a growing number of problems." Even so, she played on the emotions of viewers, interviewing an elderly New Jersey man named Harold Schutzman, who explained: "[I] got a friend there at the desk, Gary. I can't get into the paying by e-mail."
Miller emphasized the "customer loyalty" to "one of America's oldest and most trusted institutions" and noted how people in areas affected by the closings "say that these offices are an essential form of the federal government and they're a part of their community." Tossing coverage back to co-host Chris Wragge in the studio, she added: "folks are going to fight it." Wragge replied: "You know what, I still like to send out my bills in the mail, as well."
Following Miller's report, Wragge spoke with Jason Cochran of WalletPop.com, declaring that the two of them would proceed to "do some price comparisons [with UPS and FedEx] so people can see exactly how affordable and economical it is to still use the Post Office." In each price comparison that followed, the Post Office was always the cheapest option, but neither Wragge nor Cochran connected that to the fact that the U.S. Postal Service is losing $23 million a day and subsidized with taxpayer money.
At one point, Wragge proclaimed: "So you look at the price and it seems like a no-brainer," but wondered: "What are the minuses with using the Post Office?" The only problems Cochran could think of were a lack of notification of potential shipping problems and having to pay a little extra to track a package.
At the end of the segment, Wragge concluded: "It seems obvious that the Post Office would be a necessity." Cochran agreed: "It seems obvious." He suggested people were just inpatient: "Yeah, but people don't like waiting in the lines, I think, and a lot of businesses use these other companies so people tend to write it off."
On the January 31 Early Show, Wragge talked to Cochran about government efforts to ban the incandescent light bulb. The two men touted the cost benefits of newer CFL and LED bulbs.
Here is a full transcript of the February 8 segment:
8:14AM ET TEASE:
ERICA HILL: Just ahead, many post offices will be closing across the country. So what does that mean for you the next time you need to mail a letter or a package? We will show you the best way to make sure whatever it is you have to mail, that bill or birthday present, that they arrive on time and for the right price.
8:17AM ET SEGMENT:
CHRIS WRAGGE: Well, the recent announcement that the U.S. Postal Service wants to start closing 2,000 post offices next month leads to the inevitable question, are the brick and mortar buildings still necessary? CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller is outside the Maplewood, New Jersey branch with that story for us this morning. Michelle, good morning.
MICHELLE MILLER: Good morning, Chris. Well, closing a post office by law is a tough thing to do. So along with considering those 2,000 closures, Congress is looking at a bill that would make it easier to shut down underperforming branches. That would drastically reduce the physical presence of the Post Office and could signal the beginning of the end of a branch near you.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Please, Mr. Postman; USPS to Close 2,000 Post Offices]
'Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.' That unofficial creed has guided the U.S. Postal Service since the founding of our country. But in this age of digital communications, online bill paying, and Federal Express, are physical post offices still relevant? Harold Schutzman of Fair Lawn, New Jersey believes they are. Tell me, do you use the Post Office?
HAROLD SCHUTZMAN: Sure.
MILLER: How often?
SCHUTZMAN: Oh, every other day or so.
SCHUTZMAN: Yeah. Got a friend there at the desk, Gary. I can't get into the paying by e-mail or-
SCHUTZMAN: Yeah, online.
MILLER: Despite intense customer loyalty in delivering 24 million pieces of mail to American homes six days a week, the current economic downturn may bring one of America's oldest and most trusted institutions to an end. With a record deficit this year of $8.5 billion, the Postal Service loses a staggering $23 million a day and is facing a growing number of problems.
JENNIFER LEVITZ [WALL STREET JOURNAL]: They have been hit, like everyone, by the recession. People are mailing less. And then just in general, the digital revolution, we text, email, pay bills online. So that's hurting mail volumes.
MILLER: Add to that the exploding cost in retiree health care and the problem could go from bad to worse. Federal laws mandate universal service and restrict the closing of offices for economic reasons. But Congress is in a cost-cutting mood and recently proposed legislation may make those familiar brick and mortar buildings a thing of the past.
So in addition to the 2,000 branches now in jeopardy, there are another 16,000 under review. The cuts are aimed at mostly rural communities and suburban neighborhoods like mine. Folks are not going to let this go down without a fight. They say that these offices are an essential form of the federal government and they're a part of their community. It's what makes their community whole. So, Chris, folks are going to fight it.
WRAGGE: You know what, I still like to send out my bills in the mail, as well. CBS's Michelle Miller in Maplewood, New Jersey for us this morning. Michelle, good to see you, thank you. Joining us now with what this means for consumers is Jason Cochran, editor at large for WalletPop.com. Jason, good to see you this morning.
JASON COCHRAN: Hi.
WRAGGE: So I guess that leads us to the inevitable question. I mean, do you feel and are the post office – are they still necessary?
JASON COCHRAN: Yeah, yeah. Let's not confuse difficult to use and maybe financially troubled with worthless. There's a lot of reasons to use the Post Office. First of all, passport photos, tax forms, and it is still the cheapest thing going.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Keep Me Posted; Which Shipper Gets Stamp of Approval?]
WRAGGE: And let's talk about some of those prices. We're going to do some price comparisons so people can see exactly how affordable and economical it is to still use the Post Office. So here we go. We've – instead of using a UPS or FedEx, we've taken a couple of items here. First a letter, via ground shipping. And let's take a look at the costs here. First, a letter, like I said, from here to Los Angeles.
COCHRAN: Yeah, we sent it basically from this studio here in New York City to where 'The Price is Right' is out in Los Angeles. 44 cents got it there. And of course, you know, the price is much, much higher for a FedEx. Now a lot of people are making the mistake at the Post Office of using the priority mail envelope because it looks like one of those. Costs about ten times as much. But about two years ago the New York Daily News did a study, about 80% of the time, priority mail got there just as soon as the first class. So first class, about ten times less than priority mail but you still get it there about the same time.
WRAGGE: So you look at the price and it seems like a no-brainer, but there's got to be a few minuses and what are the minuses with using the Post Office?
COCHRAN: Well, one is that you don't get someone on the phone if something goes wrong or you need it redirected to another address in the middle of its transit, you don't have anyone to talk to. That's a major one, I think. And also tracking does not come standard at the Post Office. You have to pay extra for that.
WRAGGE: Alright, let's look at some more prices here. Because that same envelope we're talking about, now we want to send it next day air. Okay, so we'll look at the price comparison between the Post Office, which can do it for you, and also, of course, FedEx and UPS. And you the prices there and again-
COCHRAN: It's about double. Yeah, the Post Office is about half as much if you want to send a letter next day air. Now – and also, mind you, FedEx will get it there in the morning, so will UPS. Your post office gets it there sometime during the next day. So that's another consideration for that money.
WRAGGE: And insurance, tracking, those things which do come?
COCHRAN: All of that extra, you know, it's about $2.80 if you want to get tracking at the Post Office, insurance is from about $1.75 up, depending on the value of the item. The Post Office has a 'Would you like flies with that?' profit model these days. You go in there they try to upsell you with all these extra little add-ons. But what that means is the no frills version is going to be one of the cheapest ways to send something.
WRAGGE: Looking at another price now, a five pound package that we're just sending standard. We'll give yo the break down, between the Post Office, FedEx, and UPS. And, again, there is a net savings there.
COCHRAN: And here's the case where we did use priority mail. Because in the cases of a package, if you use the flat rate box, $10.95, priority mail can be a great deal.
WRAGGE: And also now we switch it to next day air for that same five found package and this is where you really see a big difference. And you're seeing a net savings here.
COCHRAN: Once again, next day rule, twice as much if you go outside of the postal system.
WRAGGE: It seems obvious that the Post Office would be a necessity.
COCHRAN: It seems obvious. Yeah, but people don't like waiting in the lines, I think, and a lot of businesses use these other companies so people tend to write it off.
WRAGGE: Alright, Jason, thank you very much.
WRAGGE: Good to see you.
— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.