Multifunction retail technology

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Postal services play a key role in many countries, providing access to basic communication and transaction services. Public postal operators are among the largest employers and most trusted retail network operators in each country, generating hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue.

Suffering under the burden of rising fuel costs, pension payments and alternatives to traditional letter post – and boasting a retail network far bigger than that of the banking network – reducing costs and increasing productivity is the next logical step for many postal providers.

Though postal operators are usually expected to maintain financial self-sufficiency, these universal services are usually loss making and face major challenges from the rise of remote communication technologies, the struggle to restructure high cost bases, and the persistently high cost of transport. Furthermore most public postal operators have traditionally had a monopoly on certain services, but market liberalisation has gathered pace and traditional monopoly services are under threat.

Postal operators are adapting to these challenges by cutting costs, expanding services (such as e-post and electronic bill payment) and streamlining processes – all with limited funds. Information technology helps with this change. IT can modernise service models and achieve significant efficiencies. However, business issues and technical challenges, systems and processes are complex. Postal operators need an ally they can trust to guide them through their transformation. Investing in the right technology partner is vital.

Opportunities for partnership

Keeping pace with a rapidly changing communications market, postal services are increasingly relying on new communication and information technologies to develop new products and services in order to meet higher customer expectations and to become more competitive.

Legislative change has made it easier for postal operators to create specialised subsidiaries and to form partnerships with technology providers, and to respond more rapidly and effectively to emerging market opportunities. Postal operators that offer more sophisticated IT products must usually enter into an alliance or partnership, which are widely used and have been very successful throughout Europe, offering a range of products and services.

“Driving innovation, increasing revenues and making efficiency savings with retail technologies is vital,” says Russell Willcox, chairman, Box Technologies. “We have heritage in the retail world and see post offices and bank networks simply as retailers – just with a different set of products and services from most shops. It’s like the old IT-speak of human-machine interface.

“A customer who goes into a bank might walk up to a kiosk and insert a credit card. As far as we are concerned that’s a customer interface device. It might ask for a pin number – and that’s another customer interface device. It might ask you to touch the screen, insert coins or notes, scan a barcode and so on. These are our technologies – input/output devices that enable people to get whatever it is they want from a transaction or interaction into a business’s system.”

Take Box’s new multifunction postal printer, for example. Exclusively designed and developed by the company to be the world’s first purpose built electronic point-of-sale (EPoS) printer capable of providing receipts, reports, slip printing and the ability to print stamps from the same unit in the same transaction, the TM-J7500 enables customers to obtain stamps of any value directly at the point of sale.

Already deployed by a well-known national post office, the advanced multifunction EPoS printer also provides the opportunity to use graphics, barcodes and labelling, combining cost effectiveness and ease of use. The TM-J7500 produces high-resolution printing at the point of sale to highlight vouchers, offers and special terms or simply eye-catching logos. It offers fast printing at up to 16 lines of text per second and can print coupons at up to 50mm per second, keeping customer waiting times to a minimum.

Total service provider

Purchasing technology off-the-shelf isn’t enough in today’s highly competitive business world. Postal operators need to partner with technology providers who have proven experience in working with customers to deliver innovative solutions to drive revenue growth and reduce total cost of ownership. These technology providers need to fully understand how retail technologies are deployed in order to deliver business goals. Box works with customers across multiple industries, including postal, where it has delivered solutions which reduce transaction times and cost of ownership using retail counter solutions with smaller footprint, multi-function devices.

Box specialises in providing complete solutions and wraparound services in the most challenging customer-facing environments. The company provides advice, pre-sales support, advice on product performance and specification, asset tagging, imaging, warehousing, extended warranties, installation, desktop and mobile device hardware configuration, customisation, maintenance, support, helpdesk, training and post-sales support across its entire range of products. Box is also able to provide assistance on security accreditation and sustainability issues.

That’s the essence of what defines a total service provider. The embodiment is that the provider supplies postal operators with technologies that increase efficiency and drive costs down. The three-station TM-J7500 multifunction printer is a prime example of technology designed from the ground up to serve customers more efficiently and effectively. It’s a stamp printer that is built into a receipt printer, so it can actually do things like print TV licences and provide a receipt for the transaction, in addition to producing stamps for mailing. All this specialised technology is put into one very small footprint printer for one particular customer – the postal operator.

“Box’s stand at the Post-Expo Conference was testament to how our company delivers across three core areas for Global Postal Services”, said John Haynes, business development manager for the public sector, Box Technologies. “We demonstrated our mobile services and handheld devices, ranging from those that could be used within a branch network to others that are designed to be used on the road. Devices that can be used inside a post office include tablet computers that enable staff to sit down with a customer to display information and collect data, which is a great asset when discussing a mortgage or financial products that can be bought through the post office network.”

Box also demonstrated its self-service products, which include kiosks, interactive services and digital signage. Its flagship three-station printer was also on show, as well as a touch-screen and a small purpose-built retail PC. Unlike many post offices that tend only to see themselves as purveyors of various postal and government services and a few products, forward-thinking postal services need to embrace technology in order to remain competitive.

“They don’t see themselves as retailers, which is what they have the ability to be,” concluded Haynes. “A national post office network normally has more branches than any other retail entity, so there is a great opportunity to offer a wide range of additional products and services, which should be exploited.”

Box’s presentation at the Post-Expo Conference outlined the way in which diverse information and communication technologies can be easily deployed and integrated to achieve improved retail performance. Postal operators have to act now so they don’t lose ground with advancing technology. Retail best practice can be applied to fuel growth across the multiple channels of branch, mail and Web, which are freely available to the world’s postal networks.

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