In today’s mobile society, people socialize, shop, work, and play anywhere and everywhere. Yet even as many aspects of communications and commerce have gone mobile, the physical address has remained static. Wouldn’t it be convenient if you could direct your mail to meet you wherever you go? So, instead of going to your mailbox, your mailbox came to you.

In our recently released white paper “Virtual Post Office Boxes”, we consider a concept that would offer portability to your address, just like email and phone numbers. The Virtual Post Office (PO) Box gives customers control over where, when, and how they receive their mail and packages. Much like the venerable PO Box service, the Virtual PO Box would provide users with an alternate address instead of their residential address. Virtual PO Box customers could log into their www.usps.com accounts to link this address with any physical address, including a home or business address, a nearby Post Office, a physical PO Box locker, or even a gopost® parcel locker.

The paper suggests users could accept or redirect letters, flats, and parcels online or from their smart devices to an alternate address, a temporary address, or even a parcel locker in their desired location. Customers could receive immediate notification via email or text message when new mailpieces have arrived. They then could determine where they wanted them delivered. For example, a person on vacation may request that his or her packages be delivered to a nearby gopost parcel locker. In today’s increasingly digital and mobile world, the service would provide a “just in time” element to the flow of mail and give customers numerous options. They could choose from many delivery options, however, destruction of the mail would not be an option.

The capabilities and features of a Virtual PO Box could:

Give a physical dimension to email and smart devices by linking a customer’s email addresses to his or hers Virtual PO Box address and residential address for parcel fulfillment and other activities.
Validate the identity of users for merchants and in peer-to-peer sales, while concealing home addresses and personal information.
Allow foreign customers to shop online and provide merchants with a U.S. address for parcel delivery and returns.
Provide small businesses the ability to possess a vanity address and use the Virtual PO Box as a micro-warehouse.

Some challenges of a Virtual PO Box, range from operations and technical issues to preventing fraud in international shipments. The paper also contemplates some possible future enhancements and best ways to pursue the concept, such as partnering with companies that now provide similar services.

 

If offered, which services would you use? Would you be willing to pay more for premium services, such as international shipments and returns? Do you see any problems with offering or implementing such a service? Share your thoughts below.

Comments (220)

  • anon

    As someone who lives and works between two different physical addresses and often travels for contracts, this would be a godsend. Also, rewind 9 years to college life - moving from apartment to apartment every year - and this would've also been a godsend.

    Mar 03, 2016
  • anon

    I'm 32, and have lived in five cities over the past five years -- moving for grad school, and then multiple jobs. I would have loved a virtual PO box that would allow me to update my address only once instead of doing it a dozen plus times for all of my various accounts and services (banking, Amazon, Fred cards, insurance, magazines, etc). I would pay for this service too: No brainer at $30/year, highly likely at $60/year, but probably not if over $100/year.

    Mar 02, 2016
  • anon

    I want this, amd am willing to pay either a subscription or regular service charges for premium services. Particularly if you can accept and sign for packages from Fedex and UPS in my absence.

    Mar 02, 2016
  • anon

    Absolutely! This is one of the best ideas ever. I once pondered the concept of an online city where you had a virtual address which could be used to send real-life physical letters, packages, etc. without disclosing your location. You could even have a lot of fun with it by letting people choose fun addresses in an imaginary virtual city.

    Mar 02, 2016
  • anon

    Yes please offer this service. I have moved around 8 times in the last 5 years and i'm sure all my previous addresses still get some of my mail. it is extremely hard to update your address for every service and every person every time you move, and this service would offer a convenient solution. Plus I wouldn't have to keep explaining to my grandma why I'm moving and why I have a new address.

    Mar 02, 2016
  • anon

    I think this is a great idea, but based on how poorly your mail forwarding service has performed since my recent move, I am skeptical that the USPS could make this work.

    Mar 02, 2016
  • anon

    I would use/purchase this. My biggest concern is that I do not want unsolicited mass mailings to be in my virtual PO box.

    Mar 02, 2016
  • anon

    Yes, if #1 it included spam prevention (i.e. junk mail opt outs, plus other reduction perhaps partially through partnership with CatalogChoice); #2 it could include separate rules for small mail (envelopes, magazines, & parcels under 2lb) vs. larger items; and #3 another residential address could be the target (e.g. a nearby friend who's watching my house while I'm on a trip). This could also be great for having a public-facing address which does not reveal my residential address, something of importance to many who work from home, own web domains, are public figures, or who face a threat of violence or harassment.

    Mar 02, 2016
  • anon

    Yes, I would be very interested in this as long as the USPS provided spam prevention. You currently make money off of littering my physical inbox with junk, will this just be another avenue for that? Can I pay you to prevent the constant spamming?

    Mar 02, 2016
  • anon

    I'm 30, and I don't know anyone my age who has lived in the same apartment for more than 3 consecutive years (with the exception of my SF friends, who got locked in due to rent control). Most of my friends move annually with changes in jobs and relationship status. I WANT THIS!

    Mar 02, 2016
  • anon

    I am starting a home business. I need my address to remain private to my advisors. Plus, running to the Post will be eliminated saving precious time. This would be a GREAT ASSET!

    Mar 02, 2016
  • anon

    We have businesses in the USA but have since moved out of the country. I need this service NOW as I am looking for a po box where my mail can be sent then scanned for me.

    Feb 23, 2016
  • anon

    I would love to see this. I have an interest in not making my mailing address public for things like DNS records, email newsletter footers to comply with CAN SPAM, etc. and I would love to have this tied to my physical address, or a PO box, or just forwarding. But I would very much like to get an email showing my mail so I can decide where to forward the item before it actually gets sent out. Please do this, USPS, and continue to push the state of the art in mail forwarding technology!

    Feb 21, 2016
  • anon

    Yes Yes YES!!! As a provider of mental health services, I need my living address to remain PRIVATE. When will this service be available???

    Feb 19, 2016
  • anon

    I NEED THIS SERVICE YESTERDAY! I move a lot, but keep a house in my home town. It would be SO beneficial to be able to have all my personal bills, real estate tax bills, local government notices, and all other mail sent to one place where it could be scanned and available immediately through a personal online account. USPS, this feature could save you and put you back in the black...you need to get some nerds working on this round the clock!!!

    Feb 05, 2016
  • anon

    I would definitely use a virtual PO Box.

    Feb 04, 2016
  • anon

    Would love to have a virtual po box to use for business and have all mail automatically forwarded to my home address.

    Jan 22, 2016
  • anon

    Would love this option to manage an email list without publishing a home address. Why is it not already a reality?

    Jan 09, 2016
  • anon

    I concur with the recent comments - I need a professional address but don't want to publish my home address. Would love to have a virtual PO box address but tied to my home address so the mail could be delivered as usual. Thanks!

    Jan 07, 2016
  • anon

    I am more intrested in a virtual mail forwarding service, where I can get a physical address, and then the mail is either forwarded to another address, or scanned and virtually sent via email. Reason: Small businesses need a physical address, and many people are starting their companies in their garage, however when putting up an address for your company, it's very easy these days with google to see where a company exists, and spot it in a residential neighborhood. It's not world ending, but it's not as professional, for sure. Hence, virtual mail forwarding. Here is a company who provides this service. the traveling mailbox is a site that provides this type of thing.

    Dec 28, 2015
  • anon

    Yes! Then I could ship eBay items without divulging my residential address.

    Nov 29, 2015
  • anon

    This article was years ago...why isn't this available yet? We need virtual PO boxes!

    Oct 06, 2015
  • anon

    I have a small online business that I run out of my house. I don't want to publish my home address to the world and would prefer to publish a PO box instead. However, I expect very little physical mail so I don't want to go to the PO each day to check mail. I'd rather have a virtual box and have the mail forwarded to my residence indefinitely. Thanks.

    Sep 17, 2015
  • anon

    Yes, I want to use this because CAN-SPAM law requires a mailing address, but I don't want to use my home address.

    Sep 04, 2015
  • anon

    As an academic, I am often abroad for extended periods of time. Having virtual mail service is essential!

    Sep 02, 2015
  • anon

    Hi. I'd like this so I can have a business mailing address for my business that I operate out of my home. I'd prefer not to give my home mailing address during routine business operations so I can separate my business and personal mailing concerns. Thanks.

    Aug 12, 2015
  • anon

    You propose a Virtual Post Box to link to a P.O. Box. Yet USPS and law enforcement have said that customers had to stop using P.O. Boxes for certain things, even those which were constitutionally-protected acts. Now you want to allow the use of P.O. Boxes as long as yo can (a) be the sole provider of those boxes and (b) control what goes into them. I think not. USPS can't even perform its' primary mission without constantly going back to see more money for less efficiency and poorer performance. Why should it then seek to expand its' mission, when it hasn't even be able to perform the one it was found for? Or so it appears to the average citizen. If the appearance isn't correct, then that indicates USPS has failed in its' ancillary mission, to inform, educate, and keep citizens apprised of what it actually does. Consolidate, Restructure, Get back to the primary purpose. Or go bankrupt and stop wasting customers' time and money.

    Aug 03, 2015
  • anon

    This is likely the best opportunity the USPS have for staying relevant and is most fitting with its role. We live in a nomadic society. There is universal support and demand. The notion is decades old. This article itself is years old. What does it take to make a universally needed and desired offering available?

    Jul 22, 2015
  • anon

    Absolutely! As someone who lives in an apartment and moves around a lot, I can't tell you how often I'm loosing important mail like driver's licenses, bank statements, voter registrations, car registrations, rental property bills, etc... because I forgot to update the mailing address. This feature would be amazing for people that rent (primarily lower income) because they could finally have a consistent mailing address of record and know that they will receive their proper mail. For all those bringing up the issue of jobs, I can't figure out how there would be any impact? If anything, this would create more jobs as there will be support, programming and possibly even additional carriers required to facilitate such a service.

    Jun 23, 2015
  • anon

    Email lists now require you to include an address. As a small business owner working from my house, I don't want strangers to know where I live (it's a safety issue). A virtual box would allow me to use the PO box as my address and still receive my mail at home.

    May 27, 2015
  • anon

    Good idea. Keeps the unknown companies popping up trying to "get" our mail... unsecure at minimum. I rather have the USPS continue to be the experts not some unknown wanna be.

    May 03, 2015
  • anon

    I am looking for this service to use as a small business address for a virtual business. Please let me know if this service is offered at the USPS because it would be easier for me to trust than some random virtual PO Box company.

    Apr 13, 2015
  • anon

    I don't want strangers to know where I live, but need to share my physical address.

    Mar 30, 2015
  • anon

    It should have been done long ago when mobile devices started. I have kept my phone number for years everywhere I moved why not a virtual address also.

    Mar 18, 2015
  • anon

    Implementing an extensive online virtual PO box would be difficult and could have liability depending on the type of mail being scanned. If someone simply wants a virtual PO box to protect their home identy, their local postoffice could simply include that mail in the home delivery. It is a software routing or sorting at the local postoffice. This would have a minimal impact and could be implemented quickly. This method would eliminate fraudulent shipments as it is effectively renaming a verifyable physical address. If the price point was significantly less then a physical PO box many people would jump on this immediately. This will generate revenue for the postal service by using the same system with minimal change allows for the possibility of several virtual boxes going to the same address at a multiple cost.

    Mar 16, 2015
  • anon

    This would be so useful. I move a lot (four times in three years) and there's inevitably someone who I forget to give my new address. This would be way easier!

    Mar 10, 2015
  • anon

    Forwarding of packages? But not UPS or Fedex, since post office boxes refuse to accept receipt of them. That leaves packages delivered by USPS. Do any companies still do this? I only get packages by USPS for the cheapest items or for Ebay. And Amazon rarely uses USPS. Would there be privacy guarantees? I'm sure the government would love to data-mine all that scanned information. Oh, but the government would never do that. And only the USPS would consider technical issues a "challenge". I have a folder with twelve different, tiny companies that already offer this service. I'm sure the "challenges" were stellar, seeing how most of it was probably done with off-the-shelve software. Anyhow all my packages these days come from Amazon. They already offer rerouting of packages to lockers. If you have a UPS account you can also reroute packages. Here's a radical thought. Consider catering to the customer.

    Jan 25, 2015
  • anon

    I love the idea. I have had a very mobile life and don't see that changing anytime soon. I have been recently looking into virtual mailboxes and do plan to get one, as it solves many of the problems concerned with moving (which I am doing yet again). I think there is a wide audience with the idea, not just with frequent travelers and small businesses, but also with students, clubs/orginazations, families going on their yearly vacation, etc. When researching different companies, I also liked the idea that with the mail I did not want there was an option to recycle.

    Nov 21, 2014
  • anon

    I went online looking to see if this was a possibility. I recently was laid off and I'm making business cards and wanted to have an address on them, but don't want to give out my home address so a virtual P.O. Box that just forwarded the mail to my home address would be ideal. Since the same amount of mail is still being delivered to a home address, but through the virtual box it wouldn't cost any jobs and could generate some revenue for the Post Office with little or no cost. I would be fine with paying $1 or $2 a month for this service, even as much as maybe $5 a month (though that is a little high IMHO). It would be way more convenient than having a P.O. box that I had to visit and check regularly. It should also be good for small businesses where they want a professional looking address and not a home address.

    Jun 20, 2014
  • anon

    I believe you may have an edge on UPS and FEDX as I've heard they don't get signatures as needed and leave packages. LIKE live paychecks under a door mat…REALLY…wow... I trust USPS to keep things safe while away and I like the PO Box to hid my actual address as a small business.

    Jun 03, 2014
  • anon

    This we be great for associations, clubs, or other small organizations that have no physical office and change officers (and thus mailing addresses) every few years.

    May 14, 2014
  • anon

    Another emphatic yes. Would help small business, and would be willing to pay a fee which might keep the USPS solvent. Go add it already!

    Apr 08, 2014
  • anon

    Emphatically yes. In my twenties, I typically move an average of once per year. It would be great to not have to deal with changing the address on all of my accounts at such frequency. I'd rather have a permanent mailing address that I can take with me wherever I go, whenever I go. Updating my accounts is a real drag.

    Apr 07, 2014
  • anon

    This would be an awesome way for a business like mine, which doesn't have a physical location, to keep my personal address private, but also save me the time of having to go to the Post Office to retrieve my mail. I love this idea, and I hope that this gets implemented.

    Mar 31, 2014
  • anon

    Most DEFINITELY it would appeal to me. I was JUST looking for a service like this. Im a small business owner and I don't want to list my home address on my business materials and a PO Box that would reach me no matter what my address is would be great. I could login and change my forwarding address without having to go to the post office to do it, and then setup forwarding each time. PLEASE implement this. Thank you! I've wanted this for some years now so thank you.

    Mar 13, 2014
  • anon

    I Really, Really would love to have a Virtual post office box. I have considered a real post office box, but it would be inconvenient to have to pick up the mail in person when it can be delivered. In todays world of heightened privacy concerns, a virtual post office box could be a very popular product, and as long as the prices are kept in check, I would have one for sure.

    Mar 06, 2014
  • anon

    It's great to see the USPS thinking this way. Home delivery of mail is nice, but is terribly inefficient compared to other options. Other similar old-school things like newspapers are dying because the internet is a much more efficient way to disseminate information. They haven't been around forever (since ~1600), and probably would never have become popular had more efficient technology been available. The same applies to the post office. Just because it has existed for all our lifetimes doesn't make it right/best. The USPS must evolve or it will die. This proposal is a great way to take one small step toward a better future.

    Feb 27, 2014
  • anon

    I came up with this idea recently and I'm glad to see you're already considering it. This seems like a win-win for the USPS and its customers. Customers could get most of the benefits of a physical PO box at a lower cost to the USPS, and therefore at a lower price, but it could still be a major revenue driver for the USPS. As another comment suggested, you could also derive revenue from a service that would translate virtual addresses to physical ones on a "need to know" basis. This kind of innovation is exactly what the USPS needs to get back to being one of the few government agencies that pays its own bills.

    Feb 20, 2014
  • anon

    This is a great idea! when the post office types the unique po box your real address pops up. The customer cant see but the PO person knows where its going. the sender will only see the po box but the post office knows the po box is actually your street address! As far as people whining about lost jobs....look, jobs get lost and created all the time!! People are so dumb, you think when a job disappears ...a job is gone forever. It doesn't , it just pops up somewhere else. And what jobs are being lost by this?? You know if this goes through, the post offices will need more servers, more I.T. people, more programmers, app developers, graphic designers, and on and on... in nature ...you adapt ...or die. Such is life! Instead of whining and wanting things the easy way, here's an idea: ADAPT---you loose you job, then learn another trade! one that's in demand...which anything tech is nowadays.

    Feb 14, 2014
  • anon

    This would be perfect. For personal reasons, I have to live in a location 250 miles from where I do my primary business. This would solve that issue without exposing to potential clients that I am not immediately available.

    Jan 28, 2014

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