Snail mail, also called direct mail, is a slang term for paper mail that is delivered through the postal system. It is the analog counterpart to email. In the U.S., this physical mail is delivered through the United States Postal System (USPS).
To send a piece of mail, the sender must first know the recipient’s mailing address. The recipient’s address is typically printed on the front and center of the envelope, card, or parcel, and the sender’s return address typically goes in the top left corner. Then, the sender must purchase enough postage according to the mailed item’s dimensions and weight and drop it off at the post office. USPS estimates domestic snail mail delivery time to be 3-5 business days.
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Examples of snail mail
Snail mail includes a wide variety of mailing types. However, it’s typically limited to letter-sized or flat-sized mail—it does not include packages. This kind of mail does include the following:
- Greeting cards
- Personal letters
The decline of snail mail
The rise of email and instant messaging has led to snail mail’s decline. Simultaneously, the cost of sending mail pieces has increased and the expected delivery timeline for a piece of mail has gotten longer. Digital modes of communication are faster and cheaper, and they are more sustainable from an environmental perspective. Overall, digital channels are more practical than snail/direct mail for most people who want to communicate with one another. However, physical mail is not completely dead. It’s still an effective marketing tool for businesses. USPS processes and delivers an average of 429.9 million mailpieces per day as of March 4, 2021. According to a report from Fundera, 70 percent of consumers say direct mail is more personal than online interactions, and direct mail open rates can reach up to 90 percent.