Require courier services to offer local collection depots.
The problem: increased e-commerce is making increased use of courier delivery services – attracted by low headline rates. However, they often fail to deliver!
If I’m out, they take my parcel away. I can either arrange the re-delivery and stay in to sign for it (waste of potentially a whole day) or collect it from their depot. I live in a rural area – a round trip to their depot (according to which company it is) typically means a round trip of 80 – 100 miles. A whole morning wasted plus mileage.
Note: this is not an exclusively rural problem. DHL have only 40 or so depots to cover the whole UK. Citylink have a hundred or so, but still only two to cover all of West Yorkshire and three for all Wales. TNT with 70-odd are about the same. And these are the best and biggest!!
Contrast this with a parcel sent by Royal Mail. When I am not in to receive a delivery the parcel is taken to my local Post Office (4 miles away) where I can collect it at leisure. It is even open on Saturdays – which the couriers’ depots most certainly are not. Yet this exemplary service is under attack from the more profitable, predatory courier market.
The problem is that the services are not competing on a like-for-like basis. Traders and public alike are in being duped by courier firms who market a national delivery service, when in reality they lack the infrastructure to support a domestically acceptable level of service. The simple truth is that these services have been set up with the sole intention of skimming the Post Office’s high profit (i.e. city) services, with no intention of providing a similarly high level of service in rural areas where costs are inevitably much higher. As a result the Royal Mail is left with high-cost commitments to rural areas whilst being robbed of its profit-generating capacity in urban services. The Royal Mail loses out, and rural communities lose out big-time. We have opened the door to competitive services (surely a good thing) without ensuring a level playing field.
Without intervention, the outcome is clear. Royal Mail will be forced to pare back its rural delivery services ever more. Rural communities and businesses that rely on mail-order services will become yet more disadvantaged.
The solution is simple. Regulation should dictate that any courier wishing to compete in the domestic parcel delivery service must have a collection depot within 5 miles of any UK address. (A little relaxation of this may be possible for the most outlying areas.) This would make courier services compete with the Royal Mail on a like-for-like basis. This is not anti-competitive; it is pro-competitive. Naturally, courier firms would not be in a position to establish hundreds of new offices, but they could easily sub-contract this service – to the local Post Office. It needn’t even cost them anything – I would happily pay a £1 or even £2 collection fee to the Post Office – after all, it is saving me a 100-mile journey.
Everyone wins. The couriers provide a fuller service, the Royal Mail is able to compete on a level playing-field, Post Offices benefit from the extra trade, and rural communities are guaranteed a realistic level of service. And all simply accomplished and at no cost by a stroke of the regulator’s pen..
If the social and business reasoning for this are not sufficient, then consider the environmental case. Or better still, just consider a single parcel – a new camera I ordered recently. The delivery van drove 55 miles from Gloucester to my house to deliver it. I was out, so after leaving a note the camera went 55 miles back to Gloucester. I then drove the 55 miles to Gloucester to collect it, and 55 miles home again. 220 miles of fuel consumption, emissions and waste. And all for a parcel which only started out in Birmingham!
Why does this idea matter?
It is important because of the number of times you hear people say “I have to stay in today because I am expecting a delivery”. Often they say it again the next day.
It is a self-funding proposal. A small collection fee covers the costs.
It will allow Royal Mail to compete on a level playing field – thus saving the public purse a fortune.
It requires couriers to offer a satisfactory service to all consumers in all areas.
It brings a new service and revenue stream to post office counters – helping safeguard vulnerable services.
It makes environmental sense.