Imagine the cloud-based equivalent of a consumer’s physical mailbox—a virtual receptacle where the user can accumulate bills, statements, coupons, catalogs, and almost anything else he or she is accustomed to receiving from business mailers, but in purely digital form. Now add tools for managing and archiving the inflow, blocking spam, paying bills online, opting into promotional offers, and uploading one’s own documents into this private, customizable, and ultra-secure environment. Final touch: wireless accessibility from anywhere via smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
Some might call it far-fetched. Pitney Bowes calls it Volly. The consumer-facing “lifestyle offer,” as the company describes it, went live yesterday (Jan. 6) at a media briefing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Volly’s purpose is twofold. The first is to offer consumers a solution that replicates—and substantially improves upon—the role that conventional mail plays in their lives. The other, equally important objective will be to help B2C mailers push the adoption of digital delivery—a trend slowed by consumers’ problematic but tenacious attachment to conventional mail.
Pitney Bowes executives said that Volly will be presented to mailers in beta form early this year and rolled out to consumers in the second half. The first business partnership, announced yesterday, is with Broadridge, a provider of outsourced services to the financial industry that distributes nearly 1 billion shareholder communications per year.
Pitney Bowes emphasizes that launch of Volly does not signal a retreat from the company’s traditional base in products and services for conventional mail. A mailing technology specialist for more than 90 years, Pitney Bowes continues to feed the physical mailstream with solutions including the IntelliJet inkjet presses and the envelope inkjetting systems Print + Messenger and Connect +. Volly will be marketed to high-volume senders not as a replacement for but as an adjunct to their hard-copy production, driven by the same databases of consumer information.
However, the new venture does reflect the company’s belief that many more consumers would embrace transactional and promotional content in digital form if their comfort level with receiving and managing it could be raised—a zone of ease and trust that Volly is all about building.
The name and its graphical arcs connote the back-and-forth exchanges of information that the service aims to facilitate. Murray Martin, chairman, president, and CEO of Pitney Bowes, said that Volly will offer consumers this experience by aggregating their digital mail in a readily accessible space “that’s easy to use, 100% opt-in, spam-free, and highly secure.”
For consumers, said Martin, having one place to collect and manage content will mean “no more jumping around” to scattered online sources for paying bills, redeeming coupons, and ordering from electronic catalogs. For senders, he said, the promise is that their brands will remain “front and center” in whatever transactions they have with consumers in the Volly environment.
John Schloff, vice president of marketing and strategic alliances for Volly, explained that the core concept of the service is using digital delivery to remove the “pain points” that bedevil recipients and senders of paper-based mail.
Consumers, he said, find conventional bill paying and couponing “too convoluted.” They want less clutter in their lives, and they’re chronically unhappy about unwanted promotional mail—including frustration that they’re not receiving offers that they might actually wish to see.
Pain points for senders are rising postal costs and the pressures of having to reach consumers through multiple marketing channels. Also nagging at them, said Schloff, is their fear that “we have hit the e-adoption wall” despite all that has been done to sell consumers on digital delivery—an obstacle acknowledged by Pitney Bowes. It says that 84% of consumers still choose to receive paper statements, thwarting mailers’ best efforts to convince them to switch to the more cost-efficient e-bills.
The company hopes that consumers will start to change their minds when they see the array of tools and conveniences that await them in “my service box,” the user interface demonstrated by Bernie Gracy, vice president of operations and business development for Volly.
When publicly available, the interface will show users their current and archived mail along with whatever personal documents they have chosen to store with Volly. Bills will be displayed in calendar form with automatic alerts for payment, which can be made from multiple checking accounts that the user has authorized for access. (“Bank-type security” will protect transactions of this kind, Gracy said.) All communications including bills, coupons and catalogs can be organized by brand, and there will be clutter-reducing features such as reminders for coupon redemption.
Gracy said that using Volly will be a “mutually managed experience” in which consumers and senders can exercise control in ways that aren’t possible in the physical environment. Customers, for example, can pay all of their bills and monitor their high-value content in one place, with a single login. With customers’ permission, senders will be able to deliver branded promotional offers along with invoices and statements in a paperless workflow.
Gracy said that Volly will be optimized for use with iPads, iPhones, and mobile devices running the Android OS. It also can be accessed from any desktop or portable computer.
Volly’s potential is clear to Broadridge, whose president of customer communications, Doug Deschutter, said that his company’s interest in driving e-adoption is as keen as Pitney Bowes’s. Last year, for example, Broadridge replaced more than half of its proxy-related mailings with e-delivery, saving an estimated $455 million.
Deschutter said that until now, e-delivery has been more mailer-friendly than user-friendly—a paradigm that Broadridge expects Volly to change as it promotes the service to its clients in the financial services industry.
As described yesterday, Volly’s operational and business models remain works in progress. More sender partnerships are needed, consumers still have to be enlisted in sufficient numbers, and many technicalities—such as helping users move their accounts to Volly from online bill-pay sites they are already using—have yet to be figured out.
Consumers will not pay to use Volly. All costs are to be covered by senders, who are expected to benefit economically by reducing their investment in physical mail.