The U.S. Postal Service and e-retail have been linked since the earliest days of eBay Inc., when sellers visited the post office to send winning bidders their goods. But until a few short years ago, handing off a parcel to the Postal Service was like handing off to a void: Tracking, while available, was haphazard, and often there were lags between when scans happened and when that information was uploaded so the e-retailer and expectant customer could see it.

High-volume shippers, meanwhile, made UPS Inc. and FedEx Corp.—both accustomed to handling parcels, albeit more often to business addresses over residential addresses—their preferred shippers.

But the Postal Service, facing sharp declines in demand for its market-dominant products like letter mail, came to the realization that its future relies on hitching a ride with e-commerce’s growth and exploiting the key advantage it has over UPS and FedEx—it visits 156 million U.S. residence and business addresses six days a week and, in some cases, seven. “The muscle of our network is the delivery operation,” says Cliff Rucker, senior vice president of sales and customer service for USPS, who started with the Postal Service as a carrier in 1982.

Changing course—especially for a 241-year-old quasi- government entity with 630,000 employees—takes time.

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