Postal Retail Trends
Our collective research findings have revealed several key trends that are currently impacting the global postal retail environment. These trends are as follows:
- The implementation of remote parcel lockers and pick-up points.
- Upgrading and modernizing postal service operating infrastructure.
- Utilizing AI technology for customer service functions.
- The implementation of digital solutions for traditionally physical postal transactions.
Below, you will find a deep dive of our findings!
In order to answer your question, we analyzed recent global postal industry trend reports from reputable consulting firms such as Accenture, as well as articles from trusted media sites and postal industry authority websites. In doing so, we identified the trends that were most applicable to the postal retail environment in terms of physical postal locations and operations.
Please note that there were not a significant number of reported trends that center around physical postal offices/centers in terms of designs or physical changes taking place at these locations. This is because the majority of evolving trends in this space focus around the digitization of this industry, as postal operations and transactions become less centered around the physical postal office and instead are transitioning to digital platforms and experiences. Despite this, we have isolated trends depending on which trends we would reasonably assume would have significant impact on operations at physical postal locations.
Lastly, we have focused on overarching trends (i.e. trends that were being implemented across multiple postal services globally). To support this, we have included several examples of specific services that are currently implementing each of these trends.
TREND 1: PARCEL LOCKERS AND PICK-UP POINTS
Pick-up points and parcel lockers are a part of a set of innovative package sending capabilities that are currently being implemented in the postal industry. Pick-up points and parcel lockers are seen as "an alternative to home delivery of parcels." These pick-up points and locker locations enable customers to have mail delivered to an established pick-up service location, rather than delivered to their home address. Parcel lockers are electronic and serve as a secure location that stores the customer's package until they pick it up.
These developments are being widely implemented across the globe. Europe, South America (particularly Columbia, Chile, Costa Rica, and Guatemala) are seeing the fastest growth rates of this trend. The UPS is one postal service company that currently utilizes these lockers.
Germany's Deutsche Post was a pioneer of the parcel locker trend, which it first implemented 2002. Today, this parcel locker system serves over 5 million people. The parcel locker system operates by utilizing automated kiosks where individuals can send and pick-up their packages. As of 2014, these kiosks existed in over "1,600 cities and towns throughout Germany," and plans are in place to continually grow this network.
The Australia Post is a more recent player implementing this trend. Today, the Australia post has "156 'Parcel Locker' locations already in operation and 719 'Parcel Collect' locations Australia-wide." The goal of implementing these services is to give customers more control over their package deliveries.
TREND 2: MODERNIZING OPERATING INFRASTRUCTURE
The modernization of operating infrastructure is a key trend developing with regard to postal retail environments. This trend "includes optimizing processes, refurbishing or opening new sorting facilities, installing automatic mail processing equipment and improving shipment and logistic processes." The modernization of operating infrastructure allows postal service providers to enhance and improve the performance of their operations, to be more productive, and to perform tasks in a way that produces higher quality results.
Some examples of postal services implementing this trend are bpost (sic) and USPS. Over the past few years, bpost, the leading postal service operator in Belgium, built a string of new sorting facilities which utilize state-of-the-art technology. These new high-tech facilities enabled bpost to increase mail sorting efficiency. Meanwhile, the USPS launched the use of an 'Intelligent Mail' barcode system which "identifies individual pieces of mail, trays, sacks and containers of mail and tracks them through the processing system from induction to delivery."
TREND 3: AI customer service solutions
A third key trend revealed by our research is the implementation of augmented customer service solutions. These solutions handle repetitive and simple tasks traditionally performed by a human worker. According to a report by Accenture, "AI bots will power 85% of all customer service interactions by the year 2020." By allowing AI to take over tasks that are repetitive and simplistic, post office staff can instead focus on "value-added tasks," such as tackling more complex and personal customer service issues, dealing with exception cases, and operating parcel tracking mechanisms.
Our research has revealed some key examples of how AI is currently being used for customer service in the postal industry. The USPS has implemented AI to develop collection points where customers can drop off their parcels, have them weighed, and priced. The AI can also answer questions. Meanwhile, UPS uses AI chat bots to serve as customer service assistants for "self-serve and auto-serve" customer service functions.
trend 4: service digitization
Perhaps the most widely developing trend at the moment is the digitization of postal services which previously required customers to visit a physical retail store in order to utilize. This trend is being implemented through the use of digital platforms which function as virtual stand-ins for physical post office locations.
A prominent example of this trend can be found on the USPS website. USPS touts their web platform as an "online post office at your fingertips, and is open 24/7." The USPS has also implemented a corresponding app for mobile devices. Today the USPS website receives over a 1.7 billion visitors per year. The platform even boasts an online retail store that sells stamps and other mail-related items. In 2016, the online store had a revenue of $280 million. The services offered on the USPS website include the ability for customers to "print shipping labels with postage," change their address online, track their packages, look-up zip codes, locate a physical post office location, calculate postage, request mail to be held, request a package pick-up, and order shipping supplies. The USPS mobile app can also function as a scanner for shipping label barcodes that allows for easy tracking.
The South African Post Office (SAPO), recently implemented a digitized e-service for registered mail delivery and communications (e-Registered Mail). In 2002, the South African government declared e-Registered Mail "has the same legal status as paper-based Registered Mail" (sic). E-Registered Mail services are utilized in particular by "organizations and individuals who work with sensitive and important documents." SAPO worked to establish itself as the prominent entity in South Africa for handling digital mail, and in 2016 launched a digital post solution. Users of this service are given lifetime access to a "free digital postbox" which can be accessed from a range of connected devices. According to Escher, the developer of this solution, "this hybrid mail solution digitizes and encrypts paper-based mail for secure electronic delivery. Users can also send and receive eRegistered Mail, which has proof of delivery to allow the sender to confirm receipt. Once a user receives a document through eRegistered Mail, they have an option to electronically sign, pay invoices, or save the document in the encrypted vault. With a full audit trail, the mail complies with the requirements of the South African legal system."
In closing, we have identified several key trends impacting in the global postal retail environment. These trends center around parcel lockers and pick-up points, AI customer service solutions, the digitization of services, and the modernization of operating infrastructure.