WASHINGTON — Emboldened by rapid growth in e-commerce shipping, the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service is moving aggressively this holiday season to start a premium service for the Internet shopper seeking the instant gratification of a store purchase: same-day package delivery.
Teaming up with major retailers, the post office will begin the expedited service in San Francisco on Dec. 12 at a price similar to its competitors. If things run smoothly, the program will quickly expand next year to other big cities such as Boston, Chicago and New York. It follows similar efforts by eBay, Amazon.com, and most recently Wal-Mart, which charges a $10 flat rate for same-day delivery.
The delivery program, called Metro Post, seeks to build on the post office's double-digit growth in package volume to help offset steady declines in first-class and standard mail. Operating as a limited experiment for the next year, it is projected to generate between $10 million and $50 million in new revenue from deliveries in San Francisco alone, according to postal regulatory filings, or up to $500 million, if expanded to 10 cities.
The projected $500 million in potential revenue, even if fully realized, would represent just fraction of the record $15.9 billion annual loss that the Postal Service reported last week.
Under the plan, the Postal Service is working out agreements with at least eight and as many as 10 national retail chains for same-day delivery. The mail agency says nondisclosure agreements don't allow it to reveal the companies. But given the somewhat limited pool of large-scale retailers — they must have a physical presence in 10 or more big U.S. cities to be a postal partner — the list is expected to include department stores, sellers of general merchandise, clothiers, even perhaps a major e-commerce company or two.
This holiday season, the post office expects a 20 percent jump in its package volume, higher than its shipping rivals.