Without warning the Post Office in Sandton City shopping complex closed down in the first week of March. What happened is hard to decipher because the public messages outside were unclear and contradictory.
When the Post Office branch in the shopping centre closed down customers had to go to the branch in Benmore to collect their parcels or go to Bramley in Johannesburg to collect their post office box mail. Customers grumbled and left handwritten complaints on the signage at the post office branch.
I don’t want to get into any criticising of the Post Office but would rather look at its byzantine business model that is leaving money on the table for sharp private entrepreneurial business people.
The post office is a strange business which has not moved with the times and has responded inadequately to the Internet threat. Yes, one of their new services is renewing your vehicle licence. This usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes compared to the traffic licensing department where it took several hours and where “customers” were treated with disdain and even contempt.
But the Post Office could do so much more to improve its business model. It has a large national branch network and could get into financial products and services, more effective and faster delivery of mail and parcels and other associated products and services. But the Post Office is riddled with problems such as frequent strikes which leaves the customer without mail services for weeks on end. Quite recently I saw that they were selling stationery such as pens and notebooks and just wondered who who had allowed this low-value merchandise into their branches. For goodness sake, the stationery outlets such as CNA do a far better job.
What stands in the way of the Post Office improving its business model and operations? Apart from having very little business sense, there is a paucity of innovation and a mindset that remains firmly locked into the past way of doing business. It’s actually quite tragic to see how the Post Office has declined as a service to communities.
It makes one wonder what will be left for the Post Office as the Internet and online resources grow. I’m just being facetious now but will they end up being merely a provider of stamps? But as we have seen with the US Postal Service, even stamps can be provided online to individuals and businesses.
The growth in private postal services has increased rapidly over the years including courier services and the franchised POSTNET mail services. I recently came across Aramex which is a store-to-door courier service. Drop boxes are available at Pick ‘n Pay branch stores where it costs something like R99 to send a parcel overnight to anywhere in the country. Shipments to mines, plots, power stations, embassies and areas requiring special trips may incur additional costs. But by placing the Aramex store-to-door courier service in 240 stores nationwide, the service can only grow.
It’s interesting how even in the United States where postal services have been under pressure because of the economy, the US Postal Service has shut down some branches in remote areas and instead provided the service in retail stores. As one commentator noted, the US Postal Service by doing this is going back to it early origins of more than 100 years ago. The only problem that has surfaced with this new arrangement is the labour problems associated with closing down underperforming and unprofitable remote branches.
Unless something is done to transform the postal service in this country, it will continue to leave much money on the table for entrepreneurs to develop commercialised postal services that far better meet the needs of customers who have become more than fed up with a national postal service that has lost touch with the people.