A new service that sends virtual images of the day's mail to inboxes, before snail mail arrives in actual mailboxes, is now a reality in the United States.
"Informed Delivery" is the latest way the United States Postal Service (USPS) is trying to stay competitive.
“Informed Delivery is a way for you to receive an email every single day of all the digital images of all your mail," explained David Rupert, media relations specialist at USPS. Rupert said his digital images arrive around 9 a.m. each day.
Though the USPS delivers about 46 percent of the world’s total mail, it is battling email, text messages, online advertising, television and other delivery services for consumers' attention and business.
"In a digital world, more and more people are having their bills delivered online, paying them on line. And that’s starting to cut into the overall letter volume, as well as the handwritten letter and the notes that we used to send. The reality is, we’re not doing that anymore. That’s not just a U.S. trend, that’s a worldwide trend," Rupert said.
WATCH: USPS Enters Digital, Virtual, Augmented Worlds to Attract Customers
Battling that trend also means using virtual and augmented technology in advertising, often called "junk" mail.
“What you can do is to take your cellphone, and you can take a mail piece, and it will interact with that mail piece,” Rupert described.
If there is a special digital code on an ad, consumers can scan it with their mobile device and an animated, augmented reality ad will appear. An advertiser can also send a cardboard virtual reality headset along with a code for mobile phone users to scan. What shows up is a VR ad that can be inserted into the headset for a 360-degree experience.
Virtual and augmented reality advertising are getting mixed results from consumers.
“Not all junk mail [pieces] are junk mail. You can find some good [things] within the junk mail. It’s a good idea. We’ll see how it works out,” said consumer Victor Teah.
“For some, that might be fun. But for me, I wouldn’t have any use for it," consumer Jocelyn Coatney said.
Informed Delivery has broader appeal.
“I think I would like that a lot, especially with checks and things coming in, and things coming in from grandkids. That would be a nice service,” said Coatney.
Rupert added: "We don’t want to be a world leader on technology, but we certainly want to make our services relevant to you — in your home and in your neighborhood."