The unintended consequences of e-mail

Perhaps its biggest impact will really surprise you

I was just talking to the postman as he delivered the usual passel of bills and 25-percent-off discount postcards from Bed, Bath and Beyond.

To pass the time of day, I asked him if he minded all of those NetFlix envelopes he has to deliver.

"Not at all," he smiled. "It gives the PO [Post Office] a lot of needed revenue."

When I asked him to explain, he told me that he's been delivering far fewer letters nowadays since the advent of e-mail.

"I've been doing this for 30 years," he said, "and this summer was the lightest yet."

The postman went on to say that the PO lost $5 billion last year and that even FedEx was losing big time.

But shouldn't e-commerce have increased the number of packages being sent through the delivery services? While big packages for the moment may still be sent via a delivery service, think of all those thin FedEx envelopes for documents. Those no longer need to be sent live when a simple PDF will suffice.

If fuel prices continue to rise, you can bet it won't just be the price of a stamp that goes up. There will be increases in the price of everything that has to be delivered. Like the Post Office, FedEx and UPS are going to raise prices up too. Consumers and business will think twice before using one of these services.

I'm sure FedEx and the others already have run the algorithms that tell them how much they can raise package delivery charges until they get to the point of diminishing returns.

So my guess is e-commerce will slow down, at least for the pure-play e-commerce sites, while the big-box stores and all brick-and-mortar retailers will become the beneficiaries as people shop locally.

In addition, the retailers who have both a Web site and a brick-and-mortar site will be able to leverage buying online and picking up locally.

This benefits the customer who doesn't have to pay shipping charges as well as the retailer who has trucks delivering goods on a daily basis anyway; it shouldn't cost them anymore if someone orders online as long as they are willing to pick it up at the store.

Oh yes, one more prediction: Look for the Post Office to discontinue Saturday delivery.