On 16th October 2012, Ofcom (the regulator published a ‘Review of Postal Users’ Needs’.
The wide ranging review is positioned as a consultation document on the reasonable needs of users in relation to the market for the provision of postal services in the UK.
Amongst the key findings:
Nine out of 10 residential and business users state that they find the current service as ‘acceptable’.
Although there is a caveat to the finding in that ‘acceptability;’ is used alongside the term ‘tolerability’ and is different from satisfaction. Satisfaction asks how happy they are with a service whilst tolerability asks at what point they would be unhappy with a service.
The research is described as the most comprehensive ever published by the regulator on the universal postal service in the UK, based on a combination of surveys and discussions with both residential users and businesses, from across the UK.
The changing trends on how post is delivered is highlighted in the review, in particular:
• Bulk mail volumes have increased significantly over the past 30 years and now account for the majority of all mail volumes.
• There has also been a substantial decline in the use of First and Second Class single piece mail as users seek to save money through moving to bulk mail. Over the past five years single-piece mail has declined by 40% whereas bulk mail has only dipped by less than 5%.
Abandoning Saturday postal delivery is ‘acceptable’
The review found that there appears to be a public acceptance for dropping Saturday deliveries for mail – providing packets and signed-for items could be collected on Saturdays and during the evenings.
Users (both residential and businesses) found a scenario of five weekday collections and deliveries a week generally acceptable, under certain conditions.
However, a scenario of four weekdays plus Saturday collections and deliveries was not felt to be acceptable, by businesses in particular.
But small businesses, which often operate six or seven days per week, were concerned about the possible impact on their business.
This was particularly so for those reliant on sending out goods and services to customers wanting to receive a packet on a Saturday.
Other small business users were reliant on receiving post on a Saturday to process an item or use it over the weekend. Indicative estimates suggest that the potential cost savings of removing Saturday collections and deliveries are high (meaning in excess of £151 million).
As a reminder, Royal Mail is the designated universal service provider and must collect and deliver letters six days a week from Monday to Saturday and packets five days a week from Monday to Friday.
There has been little change in the number of days post is collected and delivered in recent times – except that in 2007 Royal Mail ended Sunday collections (which had been re-introduced in 1990).
Consumers want more convenient packet delivery services
Elsewhere in the survey, consumers expressed desire for more convenient packet delivery services and re-delivery options, together with more control over the delivery of valuable or time sensitive items.
Residential users noted that large items and packet deliveries were often not successful first time. Participants suggested a service with more flexibility to deliver to disabled or elderly people.
Younger people in particular said they need postal services to be efficient, regularly updated and modern, so that they can fit with other services which users navigate in the course of their lives.
For example, residential delivery times are during the day and delivery offices are also largely open during the day. Many said that this was out of step with their own working lives.Full time workers and those with children also said that delivery office opening times were inconvenient and, critically, out of step with other businesses which open later and during weekends.
Commenting on the Ofcom research, Royal Mail said it was pleased at the customer satisfaction found in the survey, particularly considering its demanding service standards.
Royal Mail also confirmed that some of the service changes suggested by the Ofcom survey would require Parliament approval to adopt. “The requirements for a six-day-a week, one-price-goes-anywhere Universal Service are enshrined in the Postal Services Act 2011 and can only be changed by Parliament. Overall, we support the removal of other regulation that unnecessarily restricts our operational and commercial flexibility to deliver for our customers.”