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Can post offices be multi-channel retailers?

Blog

Can post offices be multi-channel retailers?

Ian Kerr

Retailers all over the world are realising that their bricks-and-mortar networks can’t be run completely separately from their online channels. The post office is no different.

Integrating physical and virtual retail channels is more than just using post offices as a click-and-collect network for online purchases; it’s about customer service, capturing sales opportunities and growing your retail business.

Accenture’s 2015 Seamless Retail Research Survey makes interesting reading for postal operators. According to the survey, the top two services shoppers want from their in-store retail experience are free wi-fi and the ability to order out-of-stock items.

Poste Italiane now has over 900 wifi hotspots at post offices around Italy. Customers have to register to use the wifi, using a valid mobile phone number, which helps build a customer database.

Integrating the retail post office network with the post’s online presence

Post office staff and franchised post office owners often perceive the post’s website as a competitor. They’re unlikely to refer customers to the post’s website for out-of-stock items or to perform transactions such as mail redirections. Franchisees might think that the post is simply stealing customers from the post office network. How can this be fixed?

There are simple solutions. One is to give franchisees a commission for ordering products for customers from the post’s website while the customer is in-store.  This is sometimes known as the “endless aisle”, giving even small post offices access to the post’s entire product range.

How can you encourage the customer to make the purchase while they’re onsite?  Some retailers offer free shipping for any online purchases made in-store.

Don’t risk letting customers out of the post office without making the purchase. It’s all too easy for the customer to check online for a competitor who has the stock available.

Another solution is to give franchisees their own e-commerce websites. Australia Post is trialling branded e-commerce websites customised for its franchisees. The e-commerce websites carry Australia Post branding and are tailored for the local franchise, including a community noticeboard.

But the real attraction to franchisees is the ability to offer the Australia Post retail range online and to make a commission on those sales – without having to worry about ordering, storing, displaying, and paying for stock. Australia Post will take care of merchant services and fulfilment of Australia Post retail stock.

Franchisees will be able to use the e-commerce platform to sell non-postal items as well, such as products from local suppliers, earning the franchisee a commission and giving the local producer an online marketplace.

Further integrating the retail network and the online channel

We’ve looked at how post offices can drive traffic online, but can web and mobile sites drive foot traffic to the post office network?

Is there a creative way to integrate the post’s mobile app with the post office network?

How about giving those customers who sign up for free in-store wifi a voucher to spend in the post office on their next visit?

Conclusion

The retail post office network remains a vital and visible part of the postal network.  Postal operators can derive value from harnessing the online capabilities of their post office networks.

Transforming the post office network into an multi-channel retail presence will help grow revenues for post office franchisees and the postal operator, while helping maintain a network of post offices to meet community service obligations.