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Are parcels services delivering what we need in 2021?

19 July 2021

Our new independent research looked into the parcel service experiences of a group of consumers, citizens and micro businesses during the pandemic. 

Our stakeholders told us that the COVID-19 pandemic was accelerating already rapid growth in the use of the parcel service, with ever more people relying on online shopping and parcel delivery as non-essential retail venues closed, and ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ people were told to stay in and shield from the virus.

We commissioned research to understand whether potentially vulnerable parcel service users had requirements that were not being captured by the market, and what changes might be needed to ensure these needs were met.

The research involved 40 in-depth interviews with parcel service users across the UK that focused mostly on people who had particular needs from the service, whether access requirements due to age, a health condition, impairment or disability, or living in a rural or deep rural area, or running a micro business.

Our objectives were to understand:

  • What do customers require from the parcel service?
  • How do customers currently use the service, and has that changed over time?
  • What sort of constraints are customers under, given their individual situations?
  • How well do customers feel their needs are being met by UK parcel services?
  • How does the Royal Mail parcel service, governed by the USO, compare to its competitors in terms of price, delivery options and reliability?

Key insights

  1. Users have a variety of needs from the parcel service, including certainty, reliability, simplicity and well as options for urgency, tracking and proof of sending.
  2. Some needs, including reliable delivery, affordability and personal safety, have become more important during the pandemic.
  3. There is general satisfaction among users with services for sending and receiving parcels – while not generally top-of-mind for people, the service is largely trusted.
  4. Even so, many experienced issues sending or receiving parcels at some point in the last year including misdelivery or delays.
  5. Service users’ engagement with providers and their ability to exercise consumer choice was limited.
  6. People with access requirements have distinct and often unmet needs around communication, familiarity and accessibility.
  7. Rural service users also need better communication options to improve reliability and service coverage.
  8. Micro businesses are more engaged and reliant on the parcel service than other groups, and see space for improvements in reliability and certainty of parcel delivery.
  9. Service users in Northern Ireland generally experienced disruption in early 2021 linked with EU Exit, notably delivery delays and additional fees, which went beyond the additional charges and delivery restrictions that some were already used to.

The Panel proposes the following practical steps for governments and other stakeholders to take to improve the consumer experience:

  • Improve consumer choice within the parcels business - online retailers should be more explicit about the delivery company they will use, and what options are available, at multiple points in the purchase process.
  • Allow access requirements to be specified more easily consumers should be able to specify their specific access requirements so that every delivery company's driver is aware. 
  • Improve reliability for those living at non-standard addresses or in rural areas - providing a simple way for all service users to supply better information about their location to delivery agents could help those living in hard-to-access locations, deep rural areas or at multiple occupant addresses to receive a more reliable service.  
  • Improving ways to send parcels, for individuals with mobility or other impairments -boosting Post Office staff training to help meet the needs of customers with additional requirements including visual and learning impairments, making parcel pickup and drop-off points more consistent and easier to find and expanding options for at-home parcel collection services.
  • Provide a COVID-safe environment - raise awareness of the social distancing measures that have been put in place to make interaction with the parcel service COVID-safe.
  • Investigate whether the current pricing structure ensures fair costs for rural users of the parcel service - more analysis needs to be done to understand how far rural surcharges align to additional costs for providers.
  • Improve choice for micro businesses - putting the right incentives in place for multiple providers to ensure accurate and speedy delivery, even for small delivery volumes and less central locations.
  • Address the ‘pain points’ in Northern Ireland - Parcel service users in Northern Ireland should not be disadvantaged in their access to products and services. Customs declarations should be managed efficiently and sellers should be encouraged to continue trading with NI and should be transparent about any additional shipping and administration costs.
  • Conduct an accessibility audit of all elements of the parcel service - the industry itself, or an independent body, should conduct an audit of the different stages in the parcel sending and delivery process to understand the degree to which accessibility needs are being met, which would then act as a framework for the industry to improve its practices. This should include a review of the administration systems to ensure that services such as the redelivery booking system are accessible and able to be used by those with access requirements or with low technical skills.


Are parcels services delivering what we need in 2021?

A yw gwasanaethau danfon yn bodloni ein hanghenion yn 2021

Parcel Users Research__Britainthinks Report_July 2021



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