Britain without the Royal Mail? That’d be, well, un-British. But, like Woolworths, it’s coming to the end of its natural life after 500 years.
Realising this, it was sold out of public ownership in 2013 in the hope this would give it the flexibility to adapt and change with the times. Form most of its life it’s existed to provide communication in the form of letters. It survived the introduction of the telephone – in fact it used to run that too, messed it up and had that part of the business privatised as British Telecom in the 1981. This didn’t stop BT doing some odd things (like selling the division running these new-fangled mobile phones), but it has replaced the dwindling demand for fix-line domestic telephone calls by selling infrastructure of networking instead. BT are doing rather well at it.
Fax, and then email, has really put a dent in written communication. Who sends letters any more (apart from idiots)? However, the Internet has resulted in a massive boom in on-line commerce, and physical products still need delivery to the purchaser. Royal Mail plc needs to re-invent itself as a delivery company, and use its existing infrastructure to do it better than the start-ups who are filling the void. Unfortunately it’s doing spectacularly badly at this, whatever it’s accounts say.
Hereabouts, our two nearest Post Offices are closing, in spite of there still being a demand. There’s always a queue. The Post Office was their advantage – you could visit it to drop off a parcel and pay the postage on it at the same time. If you can’t do this, you may as well have an account with some other carrier, who’ll pick up from your premises without any fuss. Royal Mail will, if you’re big enough.
But the big problem they have is delivery. With another courier, it’s not a problem. They’ll always follow instructions and leave it across the road, where we have an agreement to take each others’ deliveries. Not a problem. If that doesn’t work they drive past a few hours later and there’s always someone around to handle it.
But Royal Mail has a “better idea”. They stuff a card into your post box telling you to collect your parcel the following day, from your local Post Office. (The one they’re just closing) And your local Post Office parcel department is only available until noon.
Whilst I like my local postman, and the people in the parcel office, the reality is that other shipping companies provide a much better service whereas they’re constrained by crazy working practices, partly fought for by their own trade union.
Unless Royal Mail can get parcel delivery right, by delivering the things to the address the sender intended, when they intended it, they’re going to be stuck with operating an almost pointless shrinking letter service, and eventually decreasing economies of scale will mean the competition can do that cheaper too.