British consumers may be willing to have a reduced number of postal deliveries during the week – and remove the distinction between First and Second Class services.
That’s according to new research from national consumer watchdog Consumer Focus, which looked at how Royal Mail’s postal services should meet the needs of consumers in the digital age.
The report entitled Sense and Sustainability suggested changing consumer habits mean consumers are moving to use the post in a different way, with more of a focus on receiving parcels than sending letters.
The research carried out for Consumer Focus by London-based agency Accent this spring, emphasized the need for more convenient delivery options for parcels, but said consumers would be willing to accept a three or four day per week delivery frequency, with a two-day rather than next-day delivery time.
However, small businesses said they would only be willing to accept the loss of Saturday deliveries.
If delivery frequencies are reduced, consumers and SMEs expect reliability and punctuality of services to be regulated to ensure reduced delivery frequencies do not affect service quality.
With the increasing importance of ecommerce and home delivery, consumers would also want to see more parcel delivery options made available, including an extension of parcel pick-up points including more convenient locations and extended opening hours, particularly for residents at work when parcels are otherwise delivered.
Commenting on the report, Consumer Focus director of postal policy Robert Hammond said consumers were saying the post will still have a role in their lives in five years’ time, but that its role would change and as a result a “difficult debate” now lay ahead, potentially involving legislation change.
“There is a growing tension between the substance of the universal postal service and its sustainability,” he said.
“Consumers should not be obliged to pay a premium for a ‘gold-plated’ service. But that means that policymakers will need to think long and hard about how to ensure that technological advance and changing markets deliver good value and service to consumers, particularly the most vulnerable.”
Today’s report highlighted the consumer support for the current Royal Mail postal pricing structure that sees mail going to all geographical locations being delivered for a single price.
While urban residents, locally-operating SMEs and consumers in Northern Ireland expressed support for the idea of zonal pricing, the study said the general view among British consumers backed the single pricing system.
Consumer Focus said consumers actually see “little meaningful difference” in service quality between First Class and Second Class services, and would be prepared to see the distinctions between the services removed.
The research suggested that First and Second Class services “have blurred” and that use of signed-for services was the “only assured way” of getting items to a destination on time.
The finding has been echoed by certain local authority customers of Royal Mail recently, some of whom have largely abandoned use of First Class in favor of Second Class delivery following April’s rate increase.
At the heart of the study, the research does highlight that consumers and SMEs perceive value in the mail, particularly for the sending of important documents and parcels, and recognise the need for Royal Mail to become more streamlined and flexible to survive mail volume declines.
The report suggests “most hope that Royal Mail will continue to be the primary carrier of letters and packets in 10 years time”.
“They fear the unravelling of postal services and disappearance of less profitable doorstep deliveries, especially in rural areas, if Royal Mail no longer existed,” said the report, which said there was support for the universal service to be provided by alternative couriers only if regulators ensured doorstep deliveries were not lost.
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