In a world of instant communication, the U.S. Postal Service is searching for ways to remain relevant and increase revenue. Mail volume has dropped dramatically during the last 10 years. USPS reports that it handled 61.2 billion pieces of first class mail in 2016, down from 98 billion in 2006.
Informed Delivery gives it a way to reach the growing number of Americans who've shifted to digital communications.
"Our emerging consumers, younger folks, are digital natives. That's how their communications are coming to them," Dixon said. "We also know that if we can get those folks to the mailbox, they'll spend longer with each piece of mail than someone who has a long history of mail usage. So the benefit to us is that we continue the relevance of mail in a very digital world and we provide access to the consumers for those mail pieces."
This scanning technology has been in place since the 1990s. It's part of the automation process that sorts the mail. This is a way for USPS to leverage something it's already doing. This digital presence also gives the Postal Service a way to deliver digital advertising. For now, it will be a free bonus for companies that use the mail.
Prof. Copic thinks the Postal Service has found a way to add value for both mail customers and potential advertisers by offering something that no other service provides.
"It's an opportunity for the Post Office to work with marketers to make their offers more appealing and interesting and to reduce the decline of mail being delivered," he said. "It opens an opportunity that allows them to play with the big boys in direct marketing, rather than being on the sidelines."
USPS policy will strictly limit that advertising. It must be related to a piece of mail sent to you that day. For example: If you're getting a frequent flier statement, the airline could have a link for a special offer sent to you along with the image of their envelope. But you'll never see an ad for something that's not already a physical piece of mail in your mailbox, USPS assures customers.
"We don't want to create spam," Dixon told NBC News. "We don't want to create a channel that's got a lot of noise in it for consumers. Physical mail cuts through the digital clutter and we don't want to add digital clutter to this channel."
Mail theft is a serious problem. It's one of the common ways identity thieves get personally identifying information to commit their crimes. Informed Delivery can help you spot a problem in real time.
If an important piece of mail that was supposed to be delivered isn't in the mailbox — a credit card bill, tax document or financial statement — you can assume it was stolen or delivered to the wrong address and start working to find out what happened. With identity theft, the quicker you discover a problem, the faster you can move to manage the damage.
These email notifications can be a double-edged sword, cautioned Adam Levin, co-founder of the digital security firm CyberScout.
"If your account is compromised, criminals will know when something of value that they can cash, charge or use for the purpose of exploiting your identity is coming to your mailbox and be there to grab it before you do," Levin told NBC News. "That's why it's imperative that you use a long and strong password for a service like this. It also needs to be a unique password that you don't share or use for any other websites."