Auto-ID solutions could hold the key for UK’s Posties to improve revenues
Although the impending privatisation of the UK’s Royal Mail has been openly discussed for some time, it did come as a surprise to some in the sector to hear the true extent of their financial difficulties. Surely this is going to deter would-be investors unless the organisation has a clear strategy to present outlining how it intends to become more profitable?
Last week, the institution reported its financial difficulties, with operating profits for 2010 at £39m, down from £180m in 2009, due to the decline in mail volumes and costs of modernisation. It’s a big drop, but the Royal Mail is not alone and the issue of falling revenues is the same everywhere else in Europe.
On the one hand, the proliferation of Internet and e-mails are resulting in lower use of traditional mail services. Coupled with this, market deregulation approved at a central European level is bringing new competitors into the market, which, in turn, is forcing greater technological innovation. For instance, wireless data communication is becoming more widely used in postal services and parcel delivery.
Auto-ID and data capture solutions can play an important role in this evolution process because they offer a means to simultaneously drive down costs, increase levels of customer satisfaction, find new sources of income, reduce paperwork and data entry errors, increase dispatch capabilities and reduce accounting cycles by allowing faster, more accurate invoicing.
Several companies within the postal sector, including Chronopost, TNT, CTT, and DHL have already invested considerable sums to enhance their service offerings and have seen revenues increase.
In what ways can wireless data capture deliver business returns?
Reducing claims for parcel losses with track and trace solutions
The Royal Mail this week admitted to auctioning 75,000 undelivered postage items every year. Whilst the revenue from this activity goes some way to offset the cost of claims, using a track a trace solution to prevent them in the first place would be a better option because of its important effect on customer satisfaction. These solutions make it possible to identify the packages at every stage of delivery and when coupled to a web interface, customers can also follow the evolution of the delivery live from their PC.
Ensuring right person receives the right goods with ePOD solutions
Electronic proof of delivery systems have been around for some time and capture a digital signature to verify recipients. However, for more sensitive consignments, it is possible to combine data capture via handheld terminals with an eID or with a fingerprint reader, which ensures 100% certainty about the receiver’s identity.
Lower environmental impact with route planning
With the cost of fuel at an all time high, aiming for shorter driving times and accurate planning is essential to reduce costs. Planning and routing middleware integrated with automated data capture simplifies dispatching and work order management.
Offer reverse logistics services as a value add for e-tailers
One of the disadvantages of e-commerce is the potentially inconvenient returns process. Why would you buy online for convenience only to have to go to the high street post office to submit a return? Multichannel sales need multichannel returns policies and this need presents an opportunity for postal companies to partner with retailers in order to offer an efficient and secure delivery and pick up for return services.
So far the opportunities illustrated for business development have focused on the ways technology can help to extend or enhance traditional service offerings. Another way for postal companies to survive in a fast evolving environment is to diversify into offering other types of services. This could be achieved by taking advantage of the fact that postmen are “in the field”. By applying mobile data capture solutions, postal services could offer community services as a third party contractor.
For example, these could include all of the following services:
Meter reading: Whilst delivering parcels, postmen could be using their data capture devices to take meter readings for the water, gas and electricity companies and could also take secure mobile payments as necessary.
Neighbourhood watch: Since most rugged smart phones include a powerful GPS and camera as standard, it is feasible for postal companies to become local community wardens, helping to keep towns rubbish and graffiti free. They could even be tasked with keeping an eye on neighbours’ houses while they are on holiday.
Overall then, deregulation of postal companies and the impending privatisation of others such as the Royal Mail can only be a positive thing for consumers. With people living busier lives than ever, any extra help they can get from the traditional, trusted institutions that have a strong footprint in the community is likely to be very gratefully received, which means better financial returns all round.