Can I begin by saying that this subject wasn't supposed to be the theme of today's blog but I really am so infuriated by the dismissive way 'small' customers of the Royal Mail system are being treated and over charged. There have been many blog posts in recent weeks rightly taking issue with the huge price rises that came into effect on the 1st of this month. Planet Handmade in particular have spoken to Royal Mail and you can read the full blog post here. I hadn't intended to write about this as increased costs is one of those things that a business has to deal with and doesn't always make very interesting reading! I have also always been a staunch believer in Royal Mail and our Post Offices. Despite the recent forced closure of my nearest Post Office I continued to use the service even though every trip meant a car journey to the next nearest Post Office adding to the cost of despatch. However when substantially increased costs combine with losing packages I just can't keep quiet any longer.
I'm going to use A Stitch in Time Volume 2 as an example here. Wrapped in its protective cardboard sleeve - similar to those used by Amazon (more about them later) - the book weighs in at 2.2kg (over 4lb). The package measures 34cm long, 23cm wide and 5cm tall. Up until Monday of this week this package cost a whopping £10.30 to despatch by First Class Royal Mail within mainland UK. I made the decision to set the postage and packing charge on the website to £6 thereby subsidising each delivery by £4.30. I believe, and rightly so from emails I occasionally receive, that customers feel that even £6 is pricey, so to expect a customer to pay £10.30 would probably have resulted in so many lost orders that it would have a significant impact on the business. Imagine then finding out this same service with no improvements whatsoever, will now cost £15.10 to send the same package to the very same UK mainland addresses.
In my opinion, Royal Mail is a company that is only interested in domestic mail if it is 'volume'. If you look at the Royal Mail website (yet another example of inefficiency, the website was down for several months last year meaning business mail couldn't even be processed before being taken to the Post Office. Imagine finding yourself behind a business customer individually weighing in 40 or 50 packages at the Post Office counter just before Christmas!) it is all about volume. If you despatch large volumes of packages or letters you can get your costs down. If you despatch packages in the volumes Amazon despatch, you can get your costs down to almost nothing and have Royal Mail come to your premises and collect the packages for you. I understand economies of scale but it seems to me that small business customers across the UK are subsidising Royal Mail's services to the likes of Amazon, enabling them to offer incredible discounts to them for delivery because they charge the small customer such an ridiculous amount.
So my options are simple. I either hike the prices up so high that no one buys from me ever again or I look at couriers. A courier service will definitely prove more cost effective for book orders, reducing my costs to about £9 per package. Where this doesn't really work is for yarn sales as there is a minimum cost to use a courier regardless of its weight. So two 50g balls of Excelana would cost as much to despatch as a 2.2kg book. However the despatch of two balls of wool has also doubled from £2.70 to £5.65 because of the size of the package. Basically if a package isn't flat its going to cost a heck of a lot more to send. Couriers however provide a guaranteed next day service with a signature confirming delivery within their standard costs. The actual equivalent of this is Royal Mail's Special Delivery service which for A Stitch in Time volume 2 would cost an unworkable £25.80. There is an option of an account but this all revolves around volume and guaranteed parcels being despatched. If you don't perform according to estimates in one year its back to the drawing board the year after - and it still doesn't stop inefficient service.
However all of these things I already knew, but today I received an email from a customer who a week ago bought A Stitch in Time volume 2. She lives in the UK and paid £6 postage. Her book was despatched on Thursday 28th March and cost £10.30 to send by First Class Royal Mail. A week later the book has failed to arrive. A replacement will need to be sent which now means either paying Royal Mail an additional £15 to maybe deliver the book or paying a courier around £9 to £10. Either way in addition to the cost of a second book being despatched free of charge I will also have incurred £19.40 in postage costs, thereby making nothing from the order whatsoever. I apparently take a risk by sending the books first class rather than recorded or by special delivery - both of which would add to the cost - which is what amazes me most of all. If I charge someone £15 for a service that is supposed to provide next day delivery, I should provide that service. Insisting that a customer needs to pay £26 to guarantee delivery is just a nonsense. I am already paying £15. That is more than the couriers charge to provide a guaranteed next day service with signature taken and with collection from my front door. If this disappearing parcel was a one-off I might have shrugged my shoulders but over the last four years, countless packages have gone astray. In this harsh economic climate I just can't afford to loose stock like this and potentially upset my customers.
I tweeted about the lost parcel and did get a rapid response from Royal Mail about it. Their initial response was: ' I'm sorry to hear its not arrived. What was the exact date of posting?' I replied with the information I've given above and was initially quite heartened that they had listened and taken notice of my forlorn tweet. However half an hour or so later I received a second tweet which said: 'I'm really sorry your customer is waiting for the item, I hope it reaches them soon'. I know enough about Customer Services to identify false empathy when I read it. Whilst on the surface this tweet sounds sympathetic it makes no attempt whatsoever to address the issue that a paid for service has failed to do what it is supposed to. I can complain further but will be told I should have used the guaranteed delivery service and what I really want is for Royal Mail to understand what they are doing wrong. That you can't sell a service and then shrug your shoulders and turn your back when you don't deliver. I can't and wouldn't dream of saying the same to my customer. She needs and deserves a proper response and corrective action. And so do I.
If Royal Mail continue to treat small businesses with such contempt, hiking up the prices relentlessly to subsidise their discounts to the likes of Amazon, there will eventually be no UK based small companies left. If Royal Mail insist, as they do, that theirs is a non-profit making
model they should stop providing the big guys with such ridiculous
discounts. We cannot afford to compete in a market place that is being artificially skewed against us and then charged to us. And even more we can't afford to compete if you continue to deliver a poor quality service and keep losing our precious stock!
(no kisses today!)
Normal service will be resumed shortly.