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How Are Households Using Mail?

This post is based on information found in the United States Postal Service (USPS) Household Diary Study Mail Use & Attitudes in FY 2019, which provides “household information on demographics, lifestyle, attitudes toward mail and advertising, bill payment behavior, and use of the Internet and other information technologies.”

We read the report and pulled out some important facts and statistics to help you strategize your next direct mail campaign.

General Quotes

“Once considered the norm, families with two adults and at least one child now account for about one-quarter of US households. Over the years, the changing composition of households impacted the amount and kinds of mail they sent and received, generating more and different kinds of advertising mail, as well as affecting transaction mail trends (bills tend to be tied to households as much as to individuals).”

Presort letters and cards (which include most of the advertising material that is sent First-Class) fell 2.1 percent (800 million pieces), a decline largely driven by the growing migration of bills and statements from the mail to online presentments.”

Our Perspective

Declining mail volume is not necessarily a bad thing – this may mean less clutter so your messages stand out more in the mailbox than ever before.

“Transactions sent and received constitute 18 percent of all household mail volumes (as seen in Table E.2) and 49 percent of all First-Class Mail sent and received by households; as such, they represent a major component of the mail stream.”

“In FY 2019, households’ payments by mail were only about one quarter of bills received; the rest of the bills that used to be paid by mail have moved to the Internet in FY19”

Our Perspective

There are still critical communications for healthcare and financial organizations that either need to be mailed to people for security and privacy reasons, or people prefer to have them mailed for that same reason.

“Bills received (11.4 billion pieces) originated primarily from credit card companies (3.4 billion), utilities (2.1 billion), medical and other professional businesses (1.5 billion), telephone/cable companies (1.3 billion), and insurance companies (1.2 billion). Statements received (3.7 billion pieces) were predominantly sent by the financial sector (mainly banks, with 2.0 billion pieces).”

Advertising Mail Quotes

“Direct mail continues to be one of the more popular advertising choices. It is a highly efficient and versatile method for communicating with consumers. Direct mail can be targeted to the interests of individual customers, and used both to locate new customers and maintain relationships with existing customers. Direct mail allows for a variety of different types of advertising: letters, postcards, catalogs, and free samples. It can be sent as First-Class or Marketing Mail, allowing advertisers to trade off expeditious, personalized First-Class mailings against cost-savings from Marketing Mail.

Importantly, the effectiveness of direct mail is readily measurable, more so than for most other media. Businesses can track the response rate to a mailing far more precisely than for a television commercial or magazine advertisement. This feature alone gives advertising mail a key advantage over other media.”

“With $245 billion spent in the United States on advertising, few households would probably wish they received more.”

“Whether they wish to receive more or not, most households either read or at least scan their advertising mail. Figure 5.3 shows that, in 2019, 51 percent of households read their advertising mail, while an additional 21 percent scanned their mail. Twenty-six percent of households report they do not usually read their advertising mail, a substantial increase from the nine percent who did not usually read advertising mail in 1987.”

“Seventy two percent of households either read or scan advertising mail received.”

“…catalogs attract more attention than credit card advertising, as they are usually more interesting to read. Forty-two percent of households read catalogs, and only 21 percent discard them without reading them. By contrast, 30 percent of households read credit card advertising and 42 percent discard them without reading them.”

“among households that receive zero to seven pieces of advertising mail per week, 14 percent usually read all the mail and 36 percent only read some of it. Among households that receive 16 to 17 pieces per week, only 10 percent usually read all the mail and 46% only read some of it.

Thus, households that receive more advertising mail than others appear to be “turned off” by the high volume. However, Figure 5.5 also shows that about 50 percent of households usually read all or some of their mail, a percentage that is unaffected by volume received. Additionally, the percent of households that usually don’t read their advertising mail is about the same regardless of how much mail the household receives.”

“Lower income households tend to read more advertising mail, likely because they typically receive fewer pieces than their richer counterparts. With respect to age, because older heads of households generally read more than younger ones, they also tend to read more advertising mail. … households with an Internet connection read less advertising mail than households without one. This is because internet households get their information from both online and mail ads.”

“Ultimately, advertisers send direct mail because it works—household members read and respond to it.”

“Households report they intend to respond to about 12 percent of First-Class advertising mail and 11 percent of Marketing Mail. While these intended response rates are usually higher than actual response rates, the data demonstrate the impact that direct mail can have on household purchasing behavior.

This is not to say that a similar mail piece may receive a higher response rate if mailed via Marketing Mail; it is more likely the result of a different mix of advertising material in Marketing Mail.”

Tables and Figures of Note

USPS Household Diary Study Mail Use & Attitudes in FY 2019, Figure 5.2: “Advertising Volumes for First-Class and Marketing Mail Advertising by Sender Type”
USPS Household Diary Study Mail Use & Attitudes in FY 2019, Table 5.5: “Advertising Mail Received by Income and Age (Pieces per Household per Week)”
USPS Household Diary Study Mail Use & Attitudes in FY 2019, Figure 5.6: “Marketing Mail Reading Rates by Household Demographics – FY 2019”

The Bottom Line

With overall attitudes being positive and with high response rates, direct mail is certainly an effective tool for reaching your customers.

Editor’s Note:

These quotes are attributed to the United States Postal Service (USPS)

Please do not list Compu-Mail as the source if you share this page.