How to benefit from postal ubiquity
Post & Parcel speaks to Brody Buhler, CEO, Escher to find out how he is using his experience to help Posts transform their operations to meet the increasingly demanding e-commerce environment.
What drew you to your new role at Escher?
The biggest draw was Escher’s potential. Escher sits at the heart of what postal organizations do during a tremendous growth period in the ecommerce space. Additionally, Escher has a comprehensive technology platform and team of experts focused on the needs of postal organizations. With this role, I have the opportunity to sit in the middle of an industry that’s undergoing the most fascinating transformation. It was an exciting opportunity that was just too good to pass up.
What do you hope to achieve in your first year?
If we look back, there’s been a dramatic change in how deliveries are managed because of Covid. Before the pandemic, Posts were preparing for the significant year-over-year growth in global e-commerce activity. Over the past year, that growth has turned exponential with many postal networks struggling to keep up with parcel volume growth, requiring more capacity and mechanisms for delivery.
This surge in parcels is an incredible opportunity, and Escher will continue its focus on helping Posts transform their operations to meet this increasingly demanding ecommerce environment. This year, more than ever before, the focus will be on helping Posts drive last mile delivery capacity, speed, and efficiency. Posts can use their retail network to expand delivery capabilities via PUDO, efficient returns, and other flexible methods of engaging with customers. In addition, this year Escher will significantly invest in the roll out of new solutions to further facilitate ecommerce delivery. Riposte Track, Trace, and Last Mile Delivery is our latest product release – one of many more to come this year – that will continue to position Escher as the innovation accelerator for Posts.
How will your previous experience working with Posts influence your current role at Escher?
I believe my background will help chart Escher’s next horizon. I’ve spent the last 22 years in the Post industry, and as a result, I know the post and parcel delivery market. My understanding of how the market is changing and the new demands being placed on Posts will certainly drive our product strategy. That will give postal organizations an innovation partner that can anticipate their needs, giving them speed and certainty. Government services is a great example. A lot of people talk about Posts getting into this space, and while it promises to lower transaction costs and increase access, it still hasn’t taken off yet. Contrast that with what Posts can do to foster ecommerce and the revenue that could come as they add services for small to medium businesses and it becomes clear that financial services is a great opportunity for Posts.
With my unique perspective, I can quickly start to rule in and rule out opportunities that shape the next several years of Escher’s growth.
How in your opinion could postal operators use their networks more productively?
Postal operators can be more productive with both their retail networks and their delivery networks.
On the retail network, productivity will come from three areas. The first is postal ubiquity. Postal outlets are everywhere, even where other businesses can’t or won’t go. This allows Posts to support such initiatives as financial inclusion by adding postal outlets in banking deserts, or to enhance ecommerce with try-on / try-out models with easy delivery and return. Because of Posts’ ubiquity, there is a wealth of opportunity for postal organizations to move more aggressively to support ecommerce services or delivery capabilities.
Second, Posts are a trusted and secure brand. Customers are willing to do things with postal organizations that they’d be unwilling to do with other vendors. For example, sharing data with the postal organization is perceived as very secure. Posts know a customer’s address and the people that live there, and we trust them with that information. Creating services that empower consumers to use this data to receive services they want is a role Posts could play.
Third, Posts can better leverage valuable shared infrastructure with a branch-in-branch model. They don’t have to make a business case for a retailer or bank to open a branch. Instead, they simply borrow space from one of those businesses, or vice versa. Either the Post owns and shares a branch or shares space with a company that wants added foot traffic. This of course has several benefits such as lowered costs, improved customer flows, increased revenue due to the additional location and more.
In terms of delivery networks, Posts can do many things to improve productivity such as capitalize on route optimization. Saving time and money enroute is a critical element of improving Post productivity. Posts should continue to explore their role in the overall ecosystem, looking to fulfillment services or other elements of the third-party logistics value chain. Lastly, Posts need to consider local metro delivery, such as picking up an item from a store a few miles away and delivering it to an address in a city. This is essential to get right over the next few years.
Why should every Post consider implementing a PUDO strategy?
For PUDO to be relevant and valuable to a retailer it must, above all, be more convenient and accessible for their customers. That means PUDO locations have to be ubiquitous, easily accessed and seamlessly integrated into the consumer’s daily journey. For a PUDO network to be relevant and valuable to a Post, it must change the economics of delivery and drive increased revenue. For Posts to meet both the demands of retailers and their shareholders, they will need a data driven approach. Escher’s PUDO solution can quickly enable the technology required to stand up this network along with the analytics required to know where to put these sites. Using proprietary, curated data sets combined with the Post’s data, one can derive a clear map of optimal sites as well as an understanding of how each will perform.
How can postal operators better manage the flow of e-commerce volumes?
If you look at how retailers are reshaping their supply chains, it’s all about putting the inventory closer to the consumer for speed, cost, and resilience purposes. People often talk about the catalyst for that change being Amazon, but I would say the catalyst is really human nature.
Here’s a simple example: I needed a new printer. I found one on Amazon, started the checkout process, and realized the printer was going to take a week and a half to arrive. I got one click away from a purchase and decided I didn’t want to wait. Of course, I would’ve survived without the printer, but I stopped my purchase journey on Amazon and looked elsewhere. Turns out, I found the same printer on Office Depot’s website, for the same price, with free next-day delivery. I placed my order at 6 pm that evening and the printer was on my doorstep at 8 am the next morning. Now, I’ll check Office Depot’s website every time I need office supplies.
People like getting things faster and retailers understand that instant gratification radically transforms their growth trajectory. So, the most important thing Posts can work on is faster delivery. Postal delivery drivers go to every house or neighbourhood every day and there is likely a local post office available within 5 kilometers of every retailer. Posts are incredibly well-suited for last mile delivery, and if there is one thing Posts should be weaving into their flow, it is local ecommerce delivery. We know how critical that strategy is, and it’s another reason why we recently rolled out our Track, Trace, and Last Mile Delivery solution.
How is the growth of the subscriptions model changing the future of the postal industry?
Subscriptions will play an increasingly important role in what products consumers get and how consumers get them. Postal operators can play an important role in delivering subscription-based products to customers, whether they are for niche or interest purposes (such as a soap-of-the-month club) or they are related to changing buying patterns, like clothes from Stitch Fix.
There is also a curation side to subscription offerings. Retailers are using this to replace the discovery and “treasure hunting” customers used to do in-store. Plus, there’s the convenience of subscriptions. People are becoming busier and time is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity. Subscriptions gives people back time and consumers are increasingly willing to trade money for time.
How has the Pandemic expanded the audience for PUDO and self-service options?
Before the pandemic, luxury was “high touch”. Now, it’s “no-touch”. The pandemic drove demand for self-service and contactless customer service options to accommodate demand for “no-touch”. This forced consumers to learn to use these options and now that they have the know-how, they will stick with solutions that are faster and more convenient.
How else has the pandemic transformed the postal landscape?
The rapid acceleration and adoption of ecommerce and delivery placed greater pressures on Posts. Pitney Bowes forecasts that by 2026, parcel volumes will rise to double the 103 billion parcels shipped in 2019. This growth has meant that parcel delivery is now the larger business segment for many Posts as compared to letters. This fundamentally changes many things for Posts – the economics, the competitive landscape, the culture. It requires new methods, structures, processes, and technology to fully realize the value of that transformation.
How can Escher play a key part in the transformation the industry needs?
Over the past few years, many Posts have engaged in transformation programs focused on enabling a digital customer journey. The pandemic forced Posts to accelerate their transformation agendas. This is where Escher shines. We enable ecommerce by reshaping the delivery process for Posts and revolutionizing the retail and digital experience for customers. Escher helps Posts leverage their unique ubiquity, trusted brand, and shared infrastructure to expand and develop their retail network. What is more, Escher now has route optimization and local metro delivery solutions, priming Posts for many fruitful partnerships with retailers. As such, Escher will only continue to play a bigger, more important role in expanding the customer engagement and delivery capabilities of postal organizations everywhere.
About Brody Buhler
As CEO, Brody Buhler oversees all departments at Escher and is responsible for driving growth in addition to key areas such as strategy, product, operations, and culture. A distinguished leader in the post and parcel practice for over 22 years, Brody is a trusted advisor to industry c-level executives globally. Brody quickly earns the respect of his staff, customers, partners and peers for his creative strategies and thoughtful approach in solving the postal industry’s toughest challenges and delivering excellence in every situation.
Most recently, Brody served as the Global Managing Director of Accenture’s Post and Parcel Practice for the past 9 years. In that role, he was responsible for overseeing Accenture’s delivery and thought leadership for the industry and oversaw a global practice of over 2,000 resources across more than 20 countries. Prior to this position, Brody served as the Digital Government lead at Accenture Federal Services.