Will the people staffing the windows at local post offices become obsolete? Someday, yes, I think so.

Several years ago, the USPS made a decision to remove all stamp vending machines from post office lobbies due to high maintenance costs. These were the machines where you could insert coins to buy a first class stamp. They were very mechanical. If the one in the Murrysville post office was typical of most machines, yes, it was out of order more than it was in operation. Our machine was always out of operation.

Do I think those mechanical machines will appear again soon? No. They were prone to break often. However, look at the sheer number of vending machines around you. There are machines to dispense food, lottery tickets, and all other kinds of merchandise. Many of them work well and very reliably.

Will the USPS buy vending machines that, say, only dispense a full roll of stamps or a booklet of stamps and only accept credit or debit card payments? Yes, I think itís possible. Because they are not as mechanical as the old machines that had to dispense individual or strips of stamps and then cut them.

Will you buy stamps from window clerks? I think the USPS will slowly drive stamp purchases through online sales and the stamps are delivered free of charge to your home address or post office box. I think lobbies will have a vending machine that dispenses some coil or booklet stamps, and maybe a few commemoratives. Like today, stamps can be purchased at the local grocery store or office supply store where they are offered as a customer convenience. I donít think window clerks will be selling very many stamps in the future.

The USPS will offer more discounts for people who buy postage online and print the labels to mail packages. This requires someone to drop the package off at the post office for mailing. It requires no further handling by a window clerk.

In time, I predict that there will be less window clerks at post offices. They will answer customer questions. They will fill out declaration forms for packages being mailed internationally. They will handle unusually large or bulky items for customers.

Labor is a huge cost to the USPS. In time, many of the routine transactions like buying a booklet or roll of stamps will be automated or shifted to less costly alternatives (such as grocery store workers). The USPS just hasnít figured out how best to do that yet. There may be other obstacles in the way (such as union contracts?) that the USPS will have to deal with in the years to come.

But the days of window clerks doing very routine tasks are numbered, I believe.