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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Royal Mail Rant

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!

for now,
Ruby
(no kisses today!)

Normal service will be resumed shortly.



17 comments :

Stephanie Lynn said...

Unfortunately, that seems to be the way that a lot of post offices are going. Here in the states, our shipping costs went up quite a bit for in country post and up a ton for international mail a few months ago. :(

garofit said...

Hear, hear! I have to say, Royal Mail scores high on my list of less then loved establishments. Regarding your point in the last paragraph , some people would say that is the whole idea, the intentional utter destruction of the small businesses. It is certainly difficult not to look at it that way.

Just call me Ruby said...

It certainly does feel like that sometimes I'm afraid. But we won't go quietly ;-)

Just call me Ruby said...

Oh dear. The same problems are everywhere :(

Vall Streck said...

It is the same here in Canada, I sell beads online and as they are small and can fit into lettermail size packages, I can ship lettermail only to keep costs low, once its into a package over lettermail sizing.. its a fortune, and to add tracking to any if it.. forget it. No ones going to pay $14 (rough 7 quid) in shipping to track a $4 order.
Another problem I am seeing is due to sites like Amazon, Ebay etc... everyone wants everything shipped for free. I get complants over my $3 standard shipping (large orders I always pay the rest from my own pocket) Shipping costs money people... Business DO NOT make money on shipping.. The only people that make money from shipping is Royal Mail or Canada Post etc.
Your not alone.. Many of us small guys feel your pain and wonder why we bother. xx

Heather Leavers said...

Some of my packages are now way cheaper to send abroad than within UK. Madness. I'm going to try MyHermes, it's a shame because I like to support our local post office but I also like to give a decent price to my buyers.

Just call me Ruby said...

Likewise Heather. It's nonsensical. And I too have desperately tried to continue supporting Royal Mail and the post offices but it's become impossible to carry on doing so

Annie @ knitsofacto said...

The situation is, as you say, ridiculous. I don't think it will be be the death of small businesses though ... if everyone switches to using couriers they will probably be able to provide ever more cost effective services as economies of scale will benefit them to. I intend to keep ordering from small businesses, I also intend to stop using the Post Office to send parcels!

agirlinwinter said...

Hear hear! I have lost count of the number of parcels I've been expecting that Royal Mail have lost. When I complain at the sorting office, they usually blame it on my neighbours stealing the parcels because I live in a flat. Utterly ridiculous. My BF sent a letter first class last week and it took SIX DAYS to get to an address in the UK. Disgraceful when the cost of postage has gone up. Shame on you Royal Mail!

Unknown said...

That is really bad :( I can just send you a big HUG!

Maria (viola33) said...

This is really bad. I live in Russia and many yarns and knitting books and magazines are not widely available here. Many knitters (including myself) buy things at ebay and in internet shops. This increse in mail delivery prices is very sad. Makes things more unavailable. Like an iron curtain is back :(

Just call me Ruby said...

Oh Maria, Please don't worry. I'm sure we will always, somehow, find a way to get our books to you. I think its very unfortunate however that there have been other frustrating problems for couriers getting parcels into Russia. However at the moment Royal Mail prices for despatch into Europe haven't increased and I'm going to make a point of keeping all books to less than 2kg in future so that they can be shipped more easily!

Sandy said...

I'd read a few small businesses saying about increased postage recently but didn't realise how massive!

Did always wonder how companies like Amazon could ship for free...now I know!

I love to hate RM...or Royal Fail when they're not performing, when I've returned items through them (usually to Amazon) the counter staff will always say "RM can't guarantee postage of your parcel, if there's a problem, take it up with the company" And I always question that if THEY are providing a service, that someone is paying for somewhere, then surely it IS their problem if it goes missing??

It's a shame because RM used to be brilliant.

Suna said...

It really does seem that this is happening everywhere. In Norway the post offices are being closed one by one, and the service transferred to local grocery stores. The shipping cost both inland and abroad has gone up so much that at the moment if I need to get a present for someone living in another town I'll buy something online and have it shipped directly to them. This usually is is a lot cheaper than getting something here and sending it by post, which is really backwards when you think about it.

When I order something from the UK I've gotten used to it taking up to 2 weeks for it to arrive. Sometimes it will take 3 weeks, but I think only 1 delivery got lost.

LandGirl1980 said...

The state of the Royal Mail sickens me. From the agency staff (I have at least 4 different postmen a week deliver to my home) who have no real care and attention to their job (my post of often just left on my doormat - because obviously the letter box is a stretch too far) to the shocking delivery times to the horrendous price increases. What happened to the days of post arriving in the morning, you getting to know your postman and prices that enabled people to use the service? I fear that we are too far down the rabbit hole to ever get it back to the service that was world famous? Gone. Gone, gone, gone.

Hélène Magnússon said...

I had the same problem with Luxembourg post and the stupid 2 cm rules: a 25g skein cost 8€ to send!
Thanks god Iceland is still reasonable, much more reasonable that I ever imagined actually! It's dreadful costs you are talking about!

Rebecka M said...

The price increases are just beyond bonkers. Especially with the rubbish service. However with items going missing you can get your money back if you have proof of postage - even if you don't use a signed for service - and your packet is covered for compensation up to a certain amount. That is unless they've just changed those rules too...
I do feel sorry for the post office staff though, it's easy to forget that the royal mail and the post office are now completely separate companies and I know at least in my local office gets to take a lot of the complaints actually directed at the royal mail.