Abandoning Saturday postal delivery “acceptable” says Ofcom consumer survey

Britain’s postal regulator has said there is public acceptance for eliminating Saturday mail deliveries – if packets and signed-for items could be collected on Saturdays and during evenings. Ofcom issued a review of customer views on Royal Mail’s delivery in the UK today, as part of its annual assessment of the nation’s universal postal service.

Polling 4,085 people and 1,126 businesses, the regulator said that although there was generally high satisfaction levels with the current service, people would accept changes designed to reduce the costs of running the nationwide postal service.

Among the suggestions that Ofcom said would have a “high” potential for achieving cost savings was the move to reduce mail delivery from six to five days per week.

Saturday was seen as the most acceptable day of the week to lose, in terms of deliveries.

Ofcom also suggested that people were now generally less demanding of next-day mail delivery, such as is provided by Royal Mail’s First Class service, even though there are high levels of usage for the service because of a perception of service quality.

Again, the costs of providing the service are “high”, Ofcom said, with some items having to be flown by air to reach Royal Mail’s 93% on-time target for the whole of the UK.

But Ofcom said its survey suggested that UK consumers could be happy with a single-tier letter delivery service for “everyday” items, perhaps slightly more expensive but quicker than Second Class. However, a cheaper next-day service than Special Delivery could be required for low-income users sending urgent items.

Packet delivery

Elsewhere in the survey, consumers expressed desire for more convenient packet delivery services and re-delivery options, and more control over delivery of valuable or time-sensitive items.

Packet services would be better with increased opening hours for collection officers, better tracking and delivery guarantees, as well as a predictable arrival timeslot.

But Ofcom suggested more than eight out of 10 consumers opposed the idea of delivering items to a secure locker in a central location, and 58% were opposed to delivery into a box at the edge of their property.

Ofcom said following the survey, it would consider whether any changes were needed in the way the universal postal service is run in the UK. The agency is inviting stakeholder views on the findings until 18th December 2012.

Royal Mail

Commenting on the Ofcom research, Royal Mail said it was pleased at the customer satisfaction found in the survey, particularly considering its demanding service standard targets.

The company noted the major modernisation programme it is going through to respond to changing customer needs, particularly regarding the boom in ecommerce and parcel shipping, and the decline in traditional letter volumes.

Royal Mail said some of the service changes suggested by the Ofcom survey would require Parliament’s approval to adopt.

The company said in a statement today: “The requirements for a six-day-a-week, one-price-goes-anywhere Universal Service are enshrined in the Postal Services Act 2011 and can only be changed by Parliament. Overall, we support the removal of other regulation that unnecessarily restricts our operational and commercial flexibility to deliver for our customers.”

Royal Mail said it would provide a full response to the Ofcom research once it had considered the findings in detail.

“Innovation, not cuts”

The Communication Workers Union said today that the Ofcom consumer research should not “open the door to a lowering of service standards”.

The union, which said it would respond formally to Ofcom’s research in due course, said today it was “concerned” at how the universal postal service will progress beyond the current Parliamentary season.

The Ofcom survey highlighted areas of growth potential – like parcel and ecommerce delivery, the union said, which should prompt “innovation, not cuts in order to maintain and improve service standards”.

Dave Ward, the CWU deputy general secretary, said the needs of mail consumers and staff working in the industry should be “at the heart” of any response to the research.

He said: “We’re very concerned at what we’ve seen in other countries, where in the Netherlands, for example, [PostNL] is lobbying for minimum service standards of three days a week. This approach would be bad for customers and for jobs.”

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