Do the Royal Mail/Post Office need competition?

Dr Lobster*
Posts: 2013
Joined: Sat 30 Aug, 2003 20.14

I have always been of the view that our essential bits of infrastructure and utilities etc should be in public ownership, but we are where we are.

I havent needed to post anything bigger than a letter for a while so I went into the post office the other day (one of the horrible ones inside a WH Smith Local) to post a shoe box sized packet.

The queue is long and it seems to take a while to process each customer... once i get to the head of the queue, it's easy to see why...

instead of just weighing each item, the employee behind the counter, which one assumes is a sentient human, proceeds to fanny about pushing each item of mail through some sort of size guide. It is a spectacle that is excruciating to watch. Worse than painful. Like torture even. To see a presumably mentally able adult do this with boxes or items clearly smaller than the guide. Speechless.

even when it was my turn, this box which must weigh no more than a couple of hundred grams is put inside some sort of measuring guide, shook around and then weighed.

is it just me, or have the Royal Mail completely lost the plot? Does there need to be some decent competition to inject some life into corpses like this?
Philip
Posts: 968
Joined: Fri 22 Feb, 2008 21.23
Location: Merseyside
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Well, we had competition for a short while round these parts with regards to postal delivery thanks to TNT Post, later renamed Whistl. But they went bust pretty quickly.

It was fun having two postmen for a while anyway.
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cwathen
Posts: 1144
Joined: Fri 15 Aug, 2003 17.28

Dr Lobster* wrote:I have always been of the view that our essential bits of infrastructure and utilities etc should be in public ownership, but we are where we are.
Despite being a self proclaimed capitalist, I actually would agree with that. The issue with privatisation seems to be that it is seen as an ideological solution; that competition will in itself improve standards. Yet in most cases there either is no competition as suppliers hold total or effective geographical monopolies with either little practical choice, or absolutely no choice for consumers (water, rail, bus) or there is a choice but often not that much actual difference (electric, gas, telecoms). For me one of the most frustrating things with utility companies is that telecoms as an industry modernised and moved away from quarterly bills of actual usage towards monthly bills and also offered package deals where customers can pay for specific amounts of usage for a fixed price, yet gas and electric companies don't do this - even if you have a monthly direct debit contract, this is still a price based on estimated usage which will be adjusted later and there is no option to buy, say a certain amount of KWH of electric or cubic feet/metres of gas or even have a proper monthly bill without using a shit deemed supplier tarriff (or going prepaid). Thus privatisation itself has not been the driving force behind the changes in telecoms when other utilities are still largely unchanged from state suppliers in their thinking (and in the case of water companies, their monopoly status).

It would be a far simpler and cheaper exercise to simply have single state suppliers but require them to make changes to move with the times.

When it comes to the post office, compared to other newer competitors (which admittedly don't have the same sort of baggage when it comes to infrastructure or employment terms either) they are very expensive and often very awkward to deal with. If I send a parcel through Royal Mail I'm paying far more than I need to, and at the other end if my recipient misses the delivery their only option is to go the next day to a delivery office which closes for lunch and shuts at 5PM on all but one day a week, unless they want to pay an extra charge to have it delivered to a post office (which doesn't open much better hours itself). On the flip side if I use a private courier it will be cheaper and if they miss the delivery they can go to a depot which has longer collection hours. Alternatively if they know in advance they are likely to miss the delivery many couriers have deals with little independent shops in the hearts of communities which are open all hours so they can just pop in when convenient to them and pick their item up. Nothing like that from the post office.

On that front I would say that private couriers are pissing all over them. But that said, privatisation neither fixed nor made Royal Mail worse - the stupid size guide thing to which you refer was introduced several years ago now still firmly under state ownership. So will privatisation and possibly eventual true competition to Royal Mail improve it? I doubt it.

As I said above, I believe too that key infrastructure should remain in the public sector so that the government has a mandate to make sure it will always be funded on the basis of need rather than profitability, but they also have to be willing to get their hands dirty and dictate changes along the way to make sure they are providing a product that is right for the time, rather than the one the industry wants to provide. Unfortunately, governments on both sides opted to take the easy way out and privatise with little effective change coming from it.
Martin Phillp
Posts: 1016
Joined: Wed 11 May, 2011 01.28

Have to say I agree about private couriers. I recently sent a package via UKMail and the courier turned up at 9am to collect the parcel and was in Scotland the next day. Really can't complain and was reasonably priced. That saved me travelling down to the Post Office where I'd queue with people who want their pension, passport forms and eBayers sending parcels. The eBay thing got so bad that my old sub PO put a limit to four parcels only.

There was a time when I'd hope Amazon would deliver my packages via Royal Mail, now I sigh when they do that. Amazon Logistics who deliver the majority of my packages are excellent, plus I get same day delivery on some products which I don't think Parcelforce offer?

However, I really only use the Royal Mail at Christmas for cards/presents when demand for the PO/Royal Mail is at it's highest.

In the other discussion about post offices, I found the state managed PO better than the franchised ones, purely for their knowledge of the products they sell or provide as I found renewing a discount travel photocard an absolute nightmare to renew where franchised postmasters didn't know the rules on renewing properly, where as the PO Ltd employees would check the paperwork and issue within a few minutes with no fuss.

So I'm currently not in favour of a rival PO providing a similar service, considering in my opinion the mess the WHSmith franchises have been at least locally.
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Philip
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Location: Merseyside
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Martin Phillp wrote:There was a time when I'd hope Amazon would deliver my packages via Royal Mail, now I sigh when they do that. Amazon Logistics who deliver the majority of my packages are excellent, plus I get same day delivery on some products which I don't think Parcelforce offer?
One of the convenient things about ordering from Amazon is, if you have a Prime trial or membership, you can send packages to Amazon lockers instead of your home/work. And even then the ability to choose a safe place to leave parcels at your home location is much welcome. Amazon might be big and evil but they are so damn convenient… dash buttons are going a bit far though.
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bilky asko
Posts: 1171
Joined: Sat 08 Nov, 2008 19.48

Royal Mail does have some big advantages though. Their Small Parcel service is excellent, and anything below a kilo is unbeatable.

Couriers like UK Mail have decided that (pretty much) the top half of Scotland is the equivalent of delivering to Stornoway, and needs to be significantly more expensive, and that sending to Northern Ireland is the equivalent of sending to Venezuela.

With Royal Mail, I can send the same parcel to York, the Isle of Man, Gavin Scott's house, or Belfast for the same price. Sending to Europe is pretty reasonable too.

The parcel dimension limits are irritating, but that is also the case with some couriers. Practically, I can't send the maximum size of parcel via Hermes in too high a quantity because the couriers collect in their cars.
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Martin Phillp
Posts: 1016
Joined: Wed 11 May, 2011 01.28

Philip wrote:
Martin Phillp wrote:There was a time when I'd hope Amazon would deliver my packages via Royal Mail, now I sigh when they do that. Amazon Logistics who deliver the majority of my packages are excellent, plus I get same day delivery on some products which I don't think Parcelforce offer?
One of the convenient things about ordering from Amazon is, if you have a Prime trial or membership, you can send packages to Amazon lockers instead of your home/work. And even then the ability to choose a safe place to leave parcels at your home location is much welcome. Amazon might be big and evil but they are so damn convenient… dash buttons are going a bit far though.
Indeed, I'm fortunate to have an Amazon Locker in the local Co-op, so have that option also if I'm working. Amazon are usually good about collecting too, although there have been times when they've told me to print off the returns label and then off to the post office.

I've had mostly good experiences with the numerous courier companies, ironically the former CityLink were the most efficient, with Yodel as a brand is toxic. The worst experience was getting a PC delivered which was broken in transit, to a helpful courier who helped bring in a glass TV stand. I have a router being delivered by them on Saturday, which always brings a bit of dread, but it should be ok.
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jonathan
Posts: 65
Joined: Mon 06 Jan, 2014 01.43

Royal Mail is my choice for parcels assuming it's the cheapest and compensation cover is adequate. The chap in my local franchise post office is helpful and has good knowledge of the products.
I've never had a problem with sizes there including those on the fringe of large letter/small parcel and small parcel/medium parcel.

I have however experienced this in another post office and it was quite ridiculous. I asked for 2nd large letter and despite it obviously being well within the dimensions she put it through the size guide like she was on auto pilot. Presumably the franchisee picks up the cost of undercharged postage so ask staff to take no chance and check everything.
Alexia
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Joined: Sat 01 Oct, 2005 17.50

No.
scottishtv
Posts: 635
Joined: Thu 01 Apr, 2004 15.36
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

My Post Office experiences have improved significantly since I started using one in a local Asda that's open until 8pm weekdays, and 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays - so much more convenient. Also, my local one relocated into a local newsagents is also far more efficient at serving people compared to the sub post office in town, where the staff seem to enjoy having long queues.
Martin Phillp wrote:The eBay thing got so bad that my old sub PO put a limit to four parcels only.
Haha! That's insane. Could you imagine McDonald's asking customers to limit how many Big Macs they buy?
Martin Phillp
Posts: 1016
Joined: Wed 11 May, 2011 01.28

scottishtv wrote:
Martin Phillp wrote:The eBay thing got so bad that my old sub PO put a limit to four parcels only.
Haha! That's insane. Could you imagine McDonald's asking customers to limit how many Big Macs they buy?
I believe it was done as a queue saving measure as there was only the Postmaster working. Half the time, anything slightly more complex he'd refer customers to the PO Ltd managed Post Office a mile away.

My local sub PO which moved into a local grocery store closed down after it's claimed the sub-postmaster 'retired' However, I found the service to be shoddy and didn't have the footfall that the old PO had. There was one instance where an elderly woman wanted to take out her pension and as they share the float with the shop, didn't have enough money to give her!
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