Along with your cable bill and those premature offers for tasteful cremation services, your steadfast United States Postal Service employee might soon be bearing a steak and a bunch of bananas.
The USPS is, sadly, a bit of a dinosaur in 2014, as nearly every class of missive has migrated from the physical world to the electronic one. The service has seen billions in losses in recent years—it posted a $5 billion loss in 2013 alone, and is said to be roughly $100 billion in debt—and it's desperately looking for a way to stop the bleed. The growing popularity of large-scale mail-order retailers such as Amazon are one of the only reasons that it's stuck around this long. Yes, your refusal to walk the extra four blocks to the other, slightly farther Walgreen's that carries the face cream you like is one of the few crumbs feeding our hungry, dysfunctional postal system.
But the USPS has a plan. And that plan is … to bring you groceries.
The USPS is hoping to form a mutually beneficial relationship with Amazon's new grocery-delivery service, predictably titled "Fresh." Like a crocodile and a plover bird, USPS aims to achieve a symbiotic rapport with the online giant's experimental new system, which has been undergoing tests in the Bay Area for the past month and a half. Prior to its partnership with the USPS, Amazon was only able to offer the service in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle. But New York is on the way, and possibly other cities shortly thereafter.
One of the interesting catches is that the groceries are delivered between 3 am and 7 am, presumably to accommodate the varying schedules of soccer moms, college students, and rich people who love the illusion of new conveniences. Like a cross between a graverobber and Santa Claus, each delivery person is instructed not to ring your doorbell or otherwise attempt to awaken you, but to leave your insulated bag or box o' goodies for you to enjoy upon awakening.
Neither wind, nor sleet, nor dripping packages of thawing meat can stay the USPS from bringing you fresh bunches of lacinato kale, Greek yogurt, and chèvre. (Or maybe marshmallow fluff-dipped bacon strips are more your steez? No judgements from us, but we can't say that your postal worker will be so kind.)
Perhaps the USPS remembers when, in 2006, Amazon began offering Tuscan Whole Milk on its site. The comments quickly devolved into absurd commentary on the very idea of buying milk on the Internet (i.e. "I got my milk 9 days after I ordered it and boy was it rank" and "The exact minute I got my milk, my baby's new face burst into flames. I used the gallon to extinguish my baby. Next time, I'll order 2 gallons").
But the question remains: Why get into the grocery business now? Maybe USPS workers got wise to the fact that they have been carting around more and more fresh food, as online delivery companies like Blue Apron and Plated have taken off. Still, it's hardly a new idea. Omaha Steaks has been selling mail-order meat since 1952, when it used dry ice and wax-lined containers to protect its protein during shipment.
Aside from the smaller-scale specialty and gourmet services, previous online food delivery outlets have not always received a warm welcome from consumers. Webvan notoriously crumbled like a forgotten plastic-wrapped biscotti in the bottom of a purse, and several other early grocery-slangers similarly fizzled. Some speculated that it was an issue of perceived freshness—most people wouldn't want to buy a potentially-rock-hard peach or avocado, let alone a salmon filet, without being able to see, touch, or smell it for themselves. Or maybe there wasn't a high-enough convenience factor. If you've got the munchies and need to pile-drive a bag of Oreos into your face stat, you'd likely prefer to stroll a few blocks to the corner store rather than wait around for a truck. Fifteen-year-old company Fresh Direct has fared better (pulling in almost $500 million in sales last year despite being under fire, until very recently, for paying its workers sub-living wages) and even Google are jumping into the game with its own rendition of a virtual grocer.
Despite the increasing availability of services like these, the thought of the post office bringing you food feels a bit like having your dentist offer to do your dry cleaning. In the classic, Norman Rockefeller-painted vision of the American division of labor, the postman rings always rings twice—but he never brings you persimmons.