The Universal Postal Union has said it is working on a new international return service to help customers looking to send back unwanted goods purchased through foreign websites.
The UN-affiliated agency governing the international postal system said such a system was “essential” for developing cross-border e-commerce.
The project comes following last October’s UPU Congress in Doha, Qatar, where member countries approved the plan to develop a new transparent accounting system as a foundation for a new cross-border returns service.
UPU is the organisation that sets international rates for mail sent between designated postal services of its 193 member countries.
The new system would set an agreed system for parcel return services, so that air transport is paid, postal services are paid to collect return items and customs clearance arrangements are handled smoothly as items cross national borders.
The UPU said 58m parcels were sent across borders by designated postal operators in 2011, with the activity seeing a 5.3% annual growth since 2006 – growth that is expected to continue.
Christine Bétrémieux, who manages the parcels and logistics programme at the Berne-based organisation, said: “This service is often available domestically, but needs to be developed at the international level.
“It is an essential service to have for fostering cross-border e-commerce and allowing Posts to grow their business in this market.”
Joost Magielsen, the international relations and development manager at Dutch postal service PostNL, is leading the UPU’s working group for the returns service project.
He said it would be “challenging” to get the new system in place by January 2014, when a new UPU Convention and regulations take effect.
But Magielsen suggested the new UPU system could “piggy back” on existing systems to move forward quickly. The UPU hopes to work with postal operators who are already developing returns services in order to keep development costs down and reduce the “time to market” for the new service.
“The new service has to meet several international challenges, such as affordability, traceability and priority processing,” he said.