It’s Post Office Season, our busiest time of year when our biggest priority is the mails peak. We speak to Mark Siviter, Managing Director Mails & Retail, about current trends in the mails market and what we’ll be focusing on this Christmas to be better for our postmasters and our customers.
What are Post Office’s biggest opportunities in mails this Christmas?
The Christmas season is often the first time or the one time per year that some customers come into the Post Office. With the returns market growing in demand, especially with Black Friday coming up and Amazon offering label-less returns, we’re also going to have a different demographic of customer coming into branch. We need to recognise who they are and give them the right advice, offer the right service and provide a great customer experience. They’re our customers of the future and we need to spot who they are, so we can build their affinity with the Post Office.
What are the significant market trends and what does our competition look like?
Collections and returns is a huge growth area for parcel operators. Customers return more than 90 million items to online retailers every year and by 2025 that’s expected to grow to 250 million returns a year. Our own results show that we’ve seen over 20% volume growth in returns last year. While this is great news, we can’t stand still and we must become more customer focused to get ahead of the competition.
We’re having to compete in every way and we’ve seen some big shifts in the mails market – with Amazon partnering with Next stores for returns and DHL partnering with PayPoint for click and collect. With this much competition in all aspects of the mails market, it’s all comes down to consumer choice and we need them to choose Post Office.
Is there anything we can learn from previous years?
We are seeing a continuing behaviour of customers leaving Christmas until the last minute, so what was once a four week period of activity a few years ago has now become condensed into 2½ weeks – so it’s vital to get staffing correct in branch.
We know that staggering last posting dates helped us during Christmas last year and boosted sales by giving us extra trading days for First Class and Special Delivery Guaranteed services, so it’s good news that Royal Mail are following the same pattern this year.
The performance of Returns is also changing. The January sales period use to be the main peak for returns, whereas now we have two peaks – and Black Friday is slowing becoming the bigger of the two.
Generally, see an uplift across all mails products in the lead up to Christmas, but Second Class stamps, International, Local Collect and Parcelforce service all see a higher than average uplift at this time.
Are there any particular areas for growth in mails to look out for?
A customer group that’s really growing in volume is marketplace sellers. If they’re successful at what they do, the more orders they’ll get and the more packages they need to send. We need to recognise the cost attached to sending packages, not just in financial terms, as to small businesses, time is money. Marketplace sellers are often a one person band so by introducing them to our Drop and Go service, we’re adding value as it makes their life easier and gives them the time back to focus on their own customers.
Do you have any advice for postmasters?
Different branches have different types of demand. When gearing up to Christmas, you need to think about where the most transactions are coming from and put the right amount of people on the counter, at the right time, to serve customers and deal with this demand. It’s about keeping your heads up and looking at who’s coming in and what they want. One of the biggest issues we have is that we don’t offer a consistent customer experience so we need to get the basics right and provide the same high customer service standards right across the network.
Also, try to be on the front foot and give customers advice before the Christmas peak. If customers are primed to bring parcels in to post earlier, it takes the demand away from pressure points like managing queue times when it’s busier.
What do you mean by getting the basics right?
It’s all about giving the right advice to sell the right product. If a customer wants to send a high-value item, we need to ask critical questions. As well as material value, there is often an emotional value customers attach to it if it’s a gift. When selling a Signed For service, think about offering Special Delivery Guaranteed, or, if customers are sending larger or heavier items think about offering a timed Parcelforce delivery, with a 15% Rewards4U discount. These services could better serve the customer’s needs and offer them greater peace of mind – not to mention the incremental value in sales.
Another area where we can improve our customer experience is looking at the items customers bring in and checking if the packaging is right. This is really important at this time of year where gifts are involved, as if they’re not appropriately packaged, loss or damage can occur. We can help them secure it properly to make sure it’s delivered in the same state it was posted in.
It’s also really important to put the right things in the right sack. If a priority service goes in a second class bag, this affects Royal Mail and the end user’s service quality.
What does a good customer experience look like at Post Office?
We can see a direct link between having the right conversation, offering the right product and how this affects customer satisfaction. If we offer customers the right product every time, we get more money. For example, at a recent NFSP meeting I attended, one postmaster talked about how, off the back of retraining her team on the five Ws, she’s now doubled the amount of revenue she has coming in from priority services. With new customers and different demographics coming in at this time of year, if we do a good job and they are satisfied with their experience, we know that they’ll come back.