U.S.A. vs. Canada: A Pair Of Postal Opposites

American and Canadian societies often seem to be joined at the hip, don’t they? At first glance, it can be difficult to spot any significant differences between them.

The cosmopolitan city of Toronto, for instance, hosts a theater scene that is reminiscent of Broadway. The Calgary Stampede rodeo rivals any that are held in Dallas. And the Pacific metropolis of Vancouver has been called a “twin city” of Seattle.

If we look more closely at each nation’s economic sectors, though, we can spot some clear differences. Canada’s health care system, for example, is dominated by a single government payer. But during the debates about the Affordable Care Act in the United States, the Canadian model was severely criticized in comparison to the private insurance model.

The two nations even vary in their professional sports models. Most Canadian football and hockey franchises are situated in small cities like Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, whereas baseball, football, and basketball teams in the U.S. are often found in megalopolises like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. That may be why the Canadian Football League’s expansion into the U.S. was unsuccessful, as was Major League Baseball’s attempt to maintain a team in Montreal.

What other economic sectors differ? During the past month, the national postal services of Canada and the United States began to adopt very different business strategies in response to an identical challenge. Both services are struggling to adapt to significantly lower mail volumes in an era of internet communications.

The Canadian Postal Service has chosen to down size its operating infrastructure by eliminating costly home delivery activities in urban and suburban areas. Residents of Canadian cities and suburbs will now be required to pick up their mail at designated community mail boxes.

The U.S. Postal Service has proposed reductions in home delivery schedules as well, but the American Congress has refused to approve them. Instead, the U.S. Post Office is now pursuing a very different strategy, one that focuses on revenue growth.

So what is the U.S. Post Office now selling? Harry Potter stamps! American collectors have always purchased commemorative stamps that recognize illustrious American artists and dignitaries, and that celebrate great moments in American history. Although Harry Potter is certainly not an American figure, his popularity in the U.S. compelled the Postal Service to honor the fictional character in the hopes of stimulating collector sales.

Which of these conflicting strategies will prove successful? Although the Canadian service will undoubtedly reap significant cost savings from its abandonment of the home delivery model in densely populated regions, many critics are panning the decision. Likewise, the Harry Potter stamps are generating controversy in the United States.

As is the case in industry sectors from health care to professional sports, the Canadian and American strategies in the postal service sector appear to be widely divergent. At the moment, though, it remains to be seen whether one strategy will prove to be better attuned to consumer needs than the other strategy.