Should snail mail
fail, don't wail, hail the new grail:
the Postal Service offers online bill-paying
Get excited the last time you visited the U.S. Postal Service's
Oh. I see. You haven't been to the Postal
Service's site lately. Or ever. That doesn't bode well for their
But, we'll see.
Probably once or twice a month, you drop a pile of
bill payments into a mailbox, each bearing a 33-cent stamp. The
Postal Service invites you to pay at least some of those bills electronically
-- through its Web site.
The agency has
begun offering online bill payment through CheckFree, allowing
you to pay anyone in the United States. And some billers, mostly
utilities, can deliver electronic bills to you via the Postal Service
Web site and stop sending them by snail mail.
offers similar services through Yahoo, Quicken.com
and several banks. And that brings up the following question: If
you want to pay bills online, you have lots of choices, so why do
it through the Postal Service?
Because it's trustworthy, says Matt Lewis, CheckFree's
executive vice president for electronic commerce products and marketing.
"It means that the same entity that millions of Americans
have trusted for decades is there for them today and can stand behind
the delivery and payment of all their bills with the same trust
and faith that the U.S. Postal Service has stood for all these years,"
the letter carrier deliver, electronically?
His flag-waving practically brings tears to my eyes. I'm rather
a fan of the Postal Service. I think it does a fine job overall.
But many people slag the Postal Service for inefficiency, and it
has been the butt of hundreds of tired jokes by the creepy Jay
Leno and other comedians. With a reputation like that, does
the Postal Service really expect people to flock to its site?
"They're just trying to find new business to get into
to justify their existence," says Robert Sterling, an analyst with
Jupiter Communications, an Internet commerce authority. "It's one
more arrow in their quiver that they think might help them out."
The Postal Service makes a rational decision by defending
its turf. It stands to lose a lot of stamp sales in coming years
because of online billing. Forrester Research has estimated that
13 percent of bill payments will be made online in 2004.
But Sterling says Jupiter research suggests that people
who want to pay bills online would rather do it through bank Web
sites or using personal-finance management software such as Quicken.
Few want to pay their bills through non-finance-related sites.
"The point is that even Yahoo hasn't done extremely
well with this service, and a lot more people go there than to the
U.S. Postal Service site," Sterling says. "Nobody associates the
Postal Service's Web site with bill payment and bill presentment."
But surely people associate the Postal Service with
receiving and paying bills. Maybe people will consider it natural
to do the same thing through a post office Web site.
There are those like me who wonder if this deal might be big enough
to finally make online bill-paying a nationwide hit.
Lewis says the Postal Service's stamp of approval
will confer legitimacy to online bill-paying because it's a big,
trusted organization that people encounter in their daily lives.
"The significance is the formal, official recognition
by the U.S. Postal Service that Americans can and will use the Internet
to pay their bills," Lewis says.
He compares the Postal Service's deal with CheckFree
to the introduction of credit cards and automated tellers -- events
that transformed the world of personal finance.
Still, the biggest barrier to widespread adoption
of online bill-paying is cost. Customers who sign up through the
Postal Service site get a 6-month free trial. After that, there
are two payment options, and the bottom line is that it would cost
$6 a month to make 10 to 20 payments. Fewer than 10 payments would
cost less and more than 20 payments would cost more (40 cents for
Why would you pay $6 to make 10 online payments a
month? That's 60 cents a payment, and stamps cost 33 cents. The
way the Postal Service charges to make online bill payments, you
save money only if you pay more than 18 bills and fewer than 29
The Postal Service promises that it will introduce
a new wrinkle: an electronic postmark that would stamp an electronic
payment with the time and date that it was sent. This could come
in handy when a biller says it didn't receive your electronic payment.
Unlike an e-mail header, the electronic postmark would be difficult
And, sometime in the not-too-distant future, the nice
Postal Service people will offer us person-to-person cash transfers
via their Web site, too.
What would you think about pay-as-you-play banking?
Sony's Playstation2 will go on sale this fall, in
time to become the must-have item for Christmas. Don't call the
Playstation2 a toy; for most families that own one, this computer
game console will be the most powerful computer in the house. It
plays audio CDs and video DVDs. You can connect a hard drive and
PC cards to it. Using an add-on modem, you'll be able to connect
it to the Internet through phone or cable lines to download games
and maybe music and video.
A million of the video game consoles have been sold
in Japan in its first month of availability.
And now Sony is forming an online bank there. It's
scheduled to open in the first half of 2001.
Japanese customers will be able to conduct business
with the bank through their Playstation2s. Sony will encourage them
to use the bank to pay for downloads of Sony products. J.P. Morgan
will have a 4-percent stake in the bank.
Will Sony own an online bank in the United States
someday? The folks at Sony Computer Entertainment America say they
haven't heard anything.
But already, Citibank offers a Sony-branded
credit card. And there's that partnership with J.P. Morgan in
-- Posted: April 7, 2000