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Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 13:55 UK

Snail mail gets net speed boost

By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click


Click looks at the Swiss Post system

The internet has revolutionised the speed at which people communicate.

Now the Swiss postal service is hoping to do the same for regular snail mail.

The company offers a service called Swiss Post Box to customers wanting to receive their physical letters over the internet.

This system was first developed by the Seattle-based company Earth Class Mail, which has its own subscribers around the world.

'Relevant mail'

For 14 euros (£12) a month, letters are redirected to a secret location in Zurich where the envelopes are scanned and an image is e-mailed out to customers.

They can then decide whether letters should be opened and scanned by vetted personnel sworn to secrecy, or simply shredded.

Frank Marthaler, executive vice president of Swiss Post
Frank Marthaler from Swiss Post said the service cuts down on junk mail

Frank Marthaler, executive vice president of Swiss Post, said this enables customers to spend time reading only the letters that they want.

"You will get a higher relevance of mail you really get and you want to have because the others would be shredded and recycled," he explained.

His subscriber base started with small target groups: "Those are of course expats, but obviously also consultants working across Europe or even globally, who want to be online with their home."

Internet power

The Swiss Post Box service is currently only available in Switzerland and Germany, with plans to expand to locations in France, Italy and Austria this year.

The service is tapping into the power of the internet which is replacing snail mail business with e-mails, documents in PDF files and downloads.

Postman Claude Monney
Postman Claude Monney says people will always write and post letters

"A proportion of letters that were previously posted have now been replaced by e-mails, SMS, etc," said Miguel Sanchez, head of distribution for Geneva at Swiss Post.

One person who does not think snail mail has had its day is postman Claude Monney.

"I think we will always have postmen. There are people who just love putting pen to paper and sending it through the post. I'm not scared," he told Click.

"I love being outside. And you form a bond with the customers. You can have a chat. It's wonderful," he added.


The postal firm are aiming to re-create this bond with the customer in the online world - it wants to build up a reputation for handling personal data reliably.

"Every postal business is a real trusted third party in their countries. What we are lacking to do real business online is this third party trust," explained Mr Marthaler.

"The internet is a fantastic tool, but it is also a wide space for criminals and what we try to really be is the trusted third party in this environment," he added.

Watch Click on BBC News Channel, Saturday 29 August at 11.30 (BST).


Living abroad as a student (i.e. non-resident), I need to keep a UK address for mail; this is much better than having to get a friend to open it and scan it for me as a favour each time something arrives.
Mark, NC, USA

I still love receiving 'snail' mail because it makes you feel special and shows that the writer cares enough about you to sit down and write to you with proper spelling, punctuation and all.
Ibrahim Jamilu, Kano, Nigeria

I prefer junk mail come by e-mail so I can just delete it without having to handle anything. There is nothing quite like getting a hand written card or letter in the snail mail.
Mary, Santa Rosa, California, USA

I'd actually prefer it the other way around. I hate having to queue up in the post office, but would love to send my grandparents for example, more letters. I would love a system, where I could e-mail and the letter would be printed out, stuck in an envelope and sent.
Jonathan Green, Tenerife, Spain

As with all communication technologies, there will always be a place for the postal service. The way we use it might change, but most of us love to receive a tangible form of contact from time to time. Even if it's just a mailing from a wine club, it feels more personal than an e-mail. Marketeers will pick up on this and I expect to receive more, highly personalised, mailings in the future.

A handwritten letter or card will always carry more weight than a virtual message. Probably even more so in the future when people have never known anything but digital communication.
Andrew Knowles, Alton, Hampshire

I would prefer my mail to come as normal otherwise I would use e-mail for everything there again I am a dinosaur.
Andrew Eves, Sydney, Australia

Interesting article. I work in postal services in Slovakia and it is worth to try.
Karol, Bratislava

I consider the Swiss proposal too risky and not worth the cost.
Selwyn Guest-Dunager, Auckland, New Zealand

I can see its purpose for bills and junk mail, but I still love writing letters. My girlfriend and I still IM, SMS and write e-mails. But when we are away from each other for long periods, nothing beats the sincerity and love that only a handwritten letter can express.
Jake, USA

Most of my post is already by e-mail - gas, electric, phone, broadband, mobile bills are all by email as are my bank statements and credit card bills. This caused difficulty recently when I needed to provide a recent utility bill as proof of address and couldn't as they would not accept a printed copy of a gas bill!
Simon Buchannon, Birmingham

Of course I would like my mail delivered by hand. The subtext here is, would I like the unwanted rubbish and advertising filtered out and shredded? As this now amounts to around 60% of my mail, I would be happy to pay for this service.
Bob Clarkson, Croydon, Surrey

The Italian mail service is appalling and I bet it would take them a week just to scan the envelopes which would defy the purpose. Maybe it's something that can work in countries like Switzerland and Germany, I certainly can't imagine it being done in Italy.
Peggy, Trieste, Italy

It needs two improvements, or one may lead to the other. For recipients registered with the post office to receive mails as e-mail, or senders wishing to send their snail mail as e-mail, an automated facility should scan the contents and email it to the recipient. With the human intervention missing, the costs could come down to acceptable levels. This may be hugely helpful in country like India, where majority of people do not have access to IT and yet would like to send letter at rocket speed.
Ranjit Kumar, Madison, US

I have not written a personal letter in anything other than electronic format for more than a decade. And I am what my son refers to as a BBT: Born Before Technology. I have only two friends who still send letters by snail mail. One lives in Holland and is almost 60 and one lives in the US and is almost 70 years old. I usually call them when I receive their letters. Though it is nice to get a letter in the mailbox, it is much nicer, more direct, immediate and satisfying to have a "conversation" that doesn't have to wait three weeks for the post to arrive.
Theresa, Johannesburg, South Africa

I love going to the mail box to find that special card or letter. I hope it will continue to be there for me and others to enjoy. Email is great, but there is that special something when someone has taken time to send a greeting via of the postal service. To have an envelope to open with a surprise greeting lifts my spirits.
LaDonna Benshoof, Medford, USA

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