Ecompro – Lining Up For Tomorrow




The “parcel box” picture comes from Bern, Switzerland, and we took it on a somewhat overcast Saturday afternoon. Posts and other players throuoout Europe are installing these boxes for a myriad of reasons.  For the most part, the biggest motive is to relieve the posts of the time-consuming delivery of parcels to the home. Arranging a mutually-acceptable time is time-consuming and thus expensive.  Although leaving a parcel with  a neighbor or concierge is feasible, it’s not a solution in much of the country, such as in neighborhoods with many apartment buildings lacking staff, as in this neighborhood.  More and more of these will be popping up in more and more countries.  The growth in parcel traffic due to ecommerce is breathtaking and has resulted in a stunning change in the work being done at the UPU.  What appear to be open boxes on the locker are actually trompe l’oeil, by the way. They break up the monotony of the concentrated mass of yellow.

We have written previously about the shift in the attention of the UPU to parcels. First the Strategic Conference, and now the working sessions, are underscoring the sea-changes that posts are now faced with making.  As mail volumes unfortunately continue to slide, the more expensive and less “postal” grows the parcel traffic.   What does this mean?

Delivering letters, magazines and small packets is a well-structured repetitive exercise.  The postman has a well-known route he or she travels every day.  There is usually “something for everyone” or close to it, and interaction with the recipients is rarely necessary.  The postman walks or rides the same route everyday.

Parcels are quite different.  It is most unlikely that every house or delivery target will receive a parcel every day. So for optimal use of delivery personnel, new “routes” must be drawn up for the carriers to follow. And, a half dozen parcels won’t fit in the postman’s bag, or lie in the crook of his arm. He’ll need some other means of carrying the parcels, probably a wheeled vehicle of some sort.   Most parcels don’t fit through the mail slot, or quite possibly not in the curbside mailbox, either.   So they must be given to a human being.   Thus, the shift to parcels in what is being mailed requires a significant shift in human resource allocation and even in equipment.

And this problem has called forth human ingenuity, which has created these “parcel lockers”, which one sees all over Europe.  In the US, before 9-11, it was not uncommon to see something similar in train and bus stations. Most were removed as security threats.  The USPS is experimenting with these.

Some of the offerings which posts are making regarding the use of these “parcel lockers” are quite ingenious.  The systems can be used for both delivery to the consumer, and return of purchases to the merchant, with the merchant paying the postage both ways. It is possible in some countries for the consumer to deposit a properly-assembled parcel in a pack-station which calculates postage for the size and weight of the parcel, its destination  (taking into account level of service requested) and even prints the address and the “postage paid” sticker. Some countries are even extending this capability to international parcel traffic, notably in the smaller countries on the Baltic.

Some of the issues being addressed at the UPU include refinement of current operations, and updating of services such as track and trace, advice of what is coming in the next airplane, and sharing of information necessary for security and Customs.  But perhaps more remarkable is the agenda of “ECOMPRO”, which is derived from  “Accelerating integrated actions to facilitate e-commerce – UPU E-Commerce Program”.  This is a postal world call-to-arms to modernize international parcel traffic.

The program is now fleshed out in significant detail, and work assigned to various committees and its promise is significant. Most of the problems that need solving were identified in an E-commerce Forum at the UPU in March of last year. While the promise of significant traffic is significant as on-lining purchasing of goods expands at a dramatic rate globally, the barriers and difficulties to cross-border e-commerce growth are numerous. They range from overly-complicated postal offerings, to inadequate infrastructure to ancient and inefficient postal/Customs/transportation processes.  All of these topics are under study, and processes and programs being developed to help make the global postal network more efficient so more countries will benefit.  We will cover developments and topics arising from ECOMPRO though a series of posts over the next weeks.

First, coming tomorrow, the general outline of the program and its elements.

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