The Demise of Home Delivery?

I can’t help but feel today’s announcement that Amazon will offer collection from Post Offices is the tipping point for home delivery – actually for its demise. It seems logical to view home delivery as a critical mass. There needs to be a minimum density of deliveries per mile per day to justify the running of the vehicles, the staff, the infrastructure. If the deliveries for a parcel company are too far apart, the costs must go up and home delivery loses appeal. It’s a self-perpetuating route to failure.

Couple this with the sheer inconvenience of home delivery - taking time off or avoiding leaving the house to wait for a parcel seems ludicrous. I’ve encountered many businesses which ban employees from sending parcels to work. Home delivery is, in many ways, inconvenient.

Just yesterday on BBC News two ‘click and collect’ business owners were interviewed. Both companies operate those lockers you sometimes see next to supermarkets and in petrol stations. A code on your mobile phone unlocks the right door and your package is revealed. Business is booming, and growth rate is impressive.

All of this is eating away at the delivery companies’ model, and in a substantial way. Again, a critical mass model will fall apart when that mass is no longer maintained – i.e. when enough people switch away from home delivery – and the model spirals into unsustainability.

There are clearly opportunities remaining for home delivery companies: B2B and rural locations are two that come to mind, although I suspect prices might rise for both. For the rest of us, the appeal of picking up our packages at a local Post Office (or increasingly it seems, the Co-op) at our convenience must surely be greater than waiting for the parcel to come to us..

The Post

For the last four months or so we’ve been living in rented accommodation. One of the things I’ve rapidly learnt about rented places is that they’re magnets for unwanted letters.

Here’s why: before us, there were three (groups of) people living here at different times over the last few years. For various reasons we have no forwarding addresses or contact details for them, and for various other reasons most of them don’t seem to have ever updated their contact details with various companies.

The long and the short is, we get all their mail. Normally we’ll get a handful of letters every week. Some are clearly junk; some are white envelopes which look pretty personal and the rest are from companies like BT and organisations like SAGA.

Since we’re not the recipients we can’t play the Data Protection Act game and ask to have “our” details removed. Besides – I don’t fancy writing or calling to every single one of these companies asking them to stop. The same is true for simply writing and explaining.

The postie won’t stop delivering them because he’s obliged to post any addressed letters by law, and it’s probably not worth his time filtering them anyway.

So, after a bit of a look-up on the Internet I noticed a few people recommending writing “Return to Sender. Recipient no longer lives here” on the front. Dutifully I ran off a load of labels (already on my third sheet…) and started posting them back.

The other day I went to the Post Office for something unrelated, and asked if I could put “this handful of letters” in the post. The Post Office lady took them, saw the sticker and commented that “this probably won’t work. Royal Mail just usually put them straight in the incinerator”. Bleeding marvellous.

So the letters continue – another two today and undoubtedly more to come.