Post offices are a key part of posts’ e-commerce offering. Ian Kerr (Postal Hub Podcast) and Marek Różycki (Last Mile Experts) detail how Canada Post is improving the parcel collection and returns experience at post offices
Canada Post is trialling e-commerce parcel initiatives in its concept stores. The initiatives center on the customer experience – a (very Amazonian) topic we seem to mention every week in this column!
Post offices are a key part of postal operators’ e-commerce offering. They are part of the delivery network, part of the returns network, and the public face of a national institution that sometimes struggles with an often-unfair public perception of being old fashioned and passé.
What can be done at post offices to improve the e-commerce customer experience? Let’s look at some examples.
Canada Post has been testing some ideas in its concept stores in recent years such as fitting rooms. Customers can try on their online purchases immediately and only ‘buy’ the ones that work for them.
While some of us might balk at the idea of trying on clothes at a post office, other customers choose to try on clothes so that unwanted items can be returned immediately for a refund. This is especially attractive where e-commerce sellers offer a ‘try and buy’ option, whereby the customer pays at the end of the month, but only for the items they haven’t returned.
Ukrposhta (Ukraine Post) is also including fitting rooms in its new-look post offices. In Ukraine, most B2C e-commerce deliveries are sent to the post office for customer collection. Ukrposhta plans to open 100 of these modern post offices in 2018.
It’s an interesting initiative – but potentially an expensive one for post offices in high rent areas where every square foot is precious. Would an alternative be to allow customers to return clothing items to a special returns point where dedicated post office staff process the return?
Drive-thru parcel collection
Canada Post unveiled its drive-thru parcel collection zone at its Richmond Hill, Ontario, post office a few years ago.
Customers scan the barcode on their ‘item awaiting collection’ notice at the welcome kiosk. Next, customers pull up to the pick-up window, where their parcel will be handed to them through their vehicle window. Canada Post staff bring heavy or bulky parcels outside to put in the customer’s vehicle. The parcel collection area is under cover.
This sounds like a high standard of customer service – but at what cost? Would unstaffed parcel lockers be just as effective? Capacity at peak times is another concern. Is there a queue of cars waiting to collect parcels?
Perhaps a multi-lane drive-thru parcel locker installation would be an attractive development of this idea, with only heavy or bulky items handled manually.
Several posts have installed self-service zones in selected post offices. These are sometimes accessible around the clock.
Parcel lockers often feature in self-service zones, enabling customers to collect their parcels at any hour in a secure, monitored area. Returns can also be processed in these zones. Customers use automated terminals to assess and pay postage, and then lodge parcels in secure drop boxes.
Amazon has picked up on this, integrating returns into its Amazon Pick Up locations.
It is great that postal operators are waking up to the need to serve e-commerce customers and consignees better. The post office network is a huge opportunity that many posts are still to leverage fully.
It is a trusted network, created for handling letters and parcels, so it should be the best bet for delivering e-commerce parcel services to consumers. But, as we say each week, customer experience is critical!
Partnerships will be a necessity for all but a handful of major metropolitan post office locations, although it may be some time before we hear “Can I have a Big Mac with my parcel please?”
Marek Różycki is managing partner at Last Mile Experts, specializing in CEP and e-commerce last-mile advisory.
Ian Kerr is the founder and host of the Postal Hub Podcast, the weekly podcast for the postal and delivery sectors.