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Passing on the cost of failed delivery: rumblings from down under


Have you heard what’s going on down under with parcel collections? Australia Post has announced it will be charging customers whose parcels end up back at the depot for collection. That charge could be as much as AU$9 (£4.50), which is more than some standard delivery fees in Australia.
The rationale sounds reasonable enough – you’re not in when the postie attempts delivery, so your parcel goes back to depot and you have to come and collect it. And there it sits the whole time, taking up space and acting like an administrative burden. Of course Aus Post want to recover some of the costs associated with failed delivery – who wouldn’t?

If you pick up your parcel within five days, there’s nothing to pay, and – of course – most people will be in a hurry to pick things up… maybe as many as 92% according to Aus Post. After five days it’ll cost you AU$3, then an additional AU$3 per week until the AU$9 ceiling is reached.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, however, and ideas like this one are no exception. Customers are unlikely to take a fee for short term parcel storage on the chin unless they feel everything else is up to scratch. The familiar bugbear (or demon, depending on how you like to think about these things) carding people immediately springs to mind. If no one’s home and a card is left, no harm no foul.

But the delivery sector attracts a lot of criticism for not getting that simple, yet very important, task right consistently. Customers frequently complain on social media that they were in and no attempt was made to make the delivery. Or that no card was left.

I speak from bitter experience when I recount the tale of clothing purchased online and left in the big, smelly wheelie bin outside my front door for more than 24 hours by a courier who clearly wasn’t overly concerned by the fact there was no one at home and didn’t want to leave a card.

According to Australia Post this new initiative – which comes into force in August, and replaces a held free-for-10-days policy – is likely to generate “a few million”, which probably isn’t a huge sum of money for a concern that paid its senior executives bonuses totalling AU$13.47m according to Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper. But it’s a move that is unlikely to win over customers unless every other facet of the delivery service is running impeccably well.

Will postal carriers in other parts of the world be considering a similar move? It’s hard to imagine it hasn’t been – or won’t be – discussed by most at some point. I have asked Royal Mail about this – their silence has yet to be broken, so let’s not read anything into that.

Mitigating against the cost of failed delivery is an important part of daily life for the carrier industry. But levying what amounts to little more than a tax on people isn’t the way forward. Raised on a diet of free and nearly-free delivery, ecommerce shoppers are reluctant to start paying for things that have hitherto been free. Paying for a service, however, is something a growing number of people are happy to do.

Maybe it would have made more sense for Aus Post to attempt to outsource its problems with failed delivery storage to a third party; a business that would take responsibility for handling the customer communications, and even the deliveries and collections … charging a fee, of course, but for something that would at least be providing a service to the customer.

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