Postal strike shows online retailers don’t think deeply enough

Your local postie is dong you a favour if you are in online retail. Every day their cheery face brightens your morning as you open the door to be handed your letters and parcels. They have been an essential part of the UK community for over a century. Yet their impending strike is threatening many businesses – online retailers in particular who depend upon the Royal Mail for their deliveries.

Ideas about delivery have changed little even since the early days of the modern Post Office

Ideas about delivery have changed little since the early days of the modern Post Office

This comes at a time when Internet shopping is already being put under pressure by the High Street, which is currently eating in to the sales made by the online world. A postal strike merely reduces the confidence of buyers as they are not sure if their goods will be delivered. So, many shoppers are returning to the bricks and mortar stores to get their goods, rather than worry whether or not their online shopping will be delivered.

Internet retailers are responding by falling back on contingency plans to use courier firms and other delivery companies. However, on BBC Breakfast this morning the Newbury-based costume retailer, Jokers Masquerade, revealed that the last time there was a strike their additional delivery costs were £47,000. Clearly the Royal Mail either provides excellent value for money, or has consistently been too cheap compared with other ways of delivering items.

Yet, whatever the online retailers do this strike reveals one other thing. It shows that Internet shops are not thinking deeply enough about delivery mechanisms. All they are considering doing is replacing one door-to-door system, the Royal Mail, with another that is essentially the same, such as CityLink. This might help overcome distribution difficulties during the strike, but is hardly a creative solution.

People lead extraordinary lives these days. Instead of going to work just a few miles away and being home at 5pm, tea on the table, millions of people travel large distances often to different places each day. We are a hugely mobile society with working patterns that are varied. Equally, gone are the days when there was always someone at home to take in a parcel. Delivering to people’s homes 9 to 5 is  no longer an option.

Companies like Amazon realised this a while ago and offer delivery to alternative addresses, even multiple addresses for the same order. Tesco, too, know that you are not always in during the day and will deliver very early in the morning or late at night. But these are still based on the notion that delivery means getting it to your home.

In reality, delivery is about getting to to you – wherever you may be. The postal strike should provoke online retailers into considering other ways of getting their goods to you, rather than merely replacing the Royal Mail with a directly comparable alternative. After all, delivery companies have GPS in their vans and many people have GPS in their mobile phones. That means it is perfectly possible for delivery drivers to pinpoint you exactly and deliver straight to you. They could also set up a locker-based system at motorway service stations, protected by pin codes. Your parcels are delivered to your locker and you pop in to the services on your way to work and collect your items.

There are dozens of other ways of delivering goods to people, yet what this strike is doing is merely getting online retailers to think of replacing one tired old fashioned system with another. If you sell items that are delivered directly to people, it’s time to put your thinking cap on. It looks like the striking postal workers have not actually caused a problem for online retailers at all; instead it is entirely possible this could be the trigger for creative thinking that brings about brand new delivery solutions that make online buyers happier.

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