Supporting the continued growth of e-commerce: trialling the UK’s first parcel postboxes
In 2017, e-commerce grew four times faster than the wider UK retail market. At the same time, the UK retail market is becoming tougher, due to factors including rising costs and the structural shift to online shopping. Pure play online-retailers, including many marketplace sellers, are driving consumer behaviour and growth.
In support of those small businesses and marketplace sellers that are driving growth in e-commerce, in August 2018 we announced the trial of 30 parcel postboxes in Northampton and Leicester. This is the first trial of its kind in the UK. It means that small businesses and marketplace sellers can post pre-paid* parcels through postboxes in the same way that they currently post letters.
The first major change of use for the postbox in 160 years
It’s also the first major change of use for the postbox in its 160 years of existence. Postboxes have remained largely the same since they were first trialled in Jersey in 1852. They were subsequently rolled out across the UK in 1853 by Anthony Trollope, the novelist and senior GPO executive.
The changes have become necessary thanks to the growth in online shopping. In 2018, 72% of UK internet users said that they shopped online. According to Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2018, this was up by 3 percentage points from 2017. The top two retail sites, Amazon and eBay, reached 89% and 69% of the UK online audience respectively. And more than half of all internet users claimed to do more of their shopping online. This is up across all socio-economic groups, but rises to 62% for AB internet users compared to 40% for DE internet users.
In 2018, 72% of UK internet users said they shopped online
This increase in e-commerce has triggered huge growth in the number of people operating small businesses from their own homes and selling items on marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay. These “front-room sellers” are operating across the UK in both cities and rural areas, and rely on the efficient delivery of their products to boost their all-important marketplace rating.
We quickly established from customer feedback that our sellers were increasingly time poor as they juggle busy home lives with the growing demands of running a flourishing business. As their businesses grow, they need to demonstrate higher levels of professionalism to maintain a healthy customer base.
Based on this premise, we considered ways we could rethink existing services to provide greater convenience. Parcel postboxes will help time-poor business people, enabling them to post their merchandise out of hours, rather than needing to wait for Customer Service Points to open for business.
For the trial, 17 parcel postboxes will be in Northampton and 13 in Leicester
For the proof of concept trial, we’ve repurposed some existing meter mail drop boxes ‑ 17 parcel postboxes will be in Northampton and 13 in Leicester. With a wider aperture and secure design for mailing larger items, they make the posting of larger pre-paid parcels both safe and convenient.
The trial is due to run until November. A decision will then be made whether to introduce parcel postboxes in various locations across the UK. Once the trial has finished, we’ll review usage patterns and get feedback from customers to understand how much they value the new service.
The trial of parcelboxes is a great example of how Royal Mail is looking to innovate its existing products and services to better reflect the fast-changing market of e-commerce.