With the ongoing development of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global postal industry is facing numerous challenges. Recently, Bishar A. Hussein, Director General of the Universal Postal Union, released his opinion on the UPU official website, saying that the postal industry that employs more than five million people globally is undergoing an unprecedented blow, but the role of the post still cannot be ignored.
Hussein noted that the Universal Postal Union had been around for almost 150 years. “Established in 1874, it is much older than the United Nations, which was formed in 1945.” “It has survived wars, the Great Depression and witnessed major changes in the business: the onset of electric sorting machines and the gradual replacement of horses, coaches and sail ships for mail to be carried by planes and drones.”
“At its core, the postal industry serves to shape communication.” And the mission of UPU is to maintain an international postal service formed by uniting the postal operators of its member countries. “Today, letters have largely been replaced by small parcels and an ever-growing e-commerce market…. The humble post office has been transformed.” The post office in the 21st century is offering financial services, which is vital for families in rural and remote areas. According to Hussein, “…the pandemic has caused a social and economic crisis unseen since the Second World War. And like so many industries, the postal service too has had to face challenges.”
“Against this background, the UPU published a report that analyzed the pandemic’s effects on the international postal sector. The results are troubling: postal volumes fell 21 per cent between January 23 and May 14, compared to the previous year. … Unable to deliver (the postal items) due to plane cancellations, countries have been forced to hold on to their international post while they look for alternative means of transport, such as trains and ships.”
“Only one out of every two items posted abroad has been successfully delivered since May,… delivery and customs clearance times have also lengthened. In the first half of 2020, post between China and Europe, once flown to its destination, now takes 12-14 days by mail train.”
“Financial services are facing disruption, too, and they represent around 16 per cent of postal revenues. The impact on the economic activities of migrants and their families is likely to be severe.” According to Hussein, these are disturbing results never seen in the industry since he began to work for the post in 1984. He added, “Going forward, there are three possible scenarios in the future of postal operators. First, and the most pessimistic, is that postal operators will be unable to return to their previous position. Second, green shoots of recovery will appear, but the postal service will be unable to reverse the downward trend. In the third scenario, normality will return quickly, and we will be able to seize new opportunities and make positive structural changes.”
To achieve the most optimistic scenario, he called for increasing co-operation along the entire global postal chain. “The UPU will continue to bring postal operators together through its forums. This will facilitate website integration and importantly, the increased take up of postal e-services, …”
The UPU must also continue to ensure that postal operations in developing countries digitally transform and seize the opportunities of e-commerce, leaving no one behind.
“… governments, regulators and postal operators need to help start the processes of digitalization, … meeting the changing demands of citizens who want efficient service and better delivery times.”
“Too often people across countries view the post as a somewhat traditional industry. This must change. And in the e-commerce market, postal operators can be the catalyst for this change.”
“We are already the enablers of e-commerce inclusion across the world. Every day, the postal service helps small businesses sell their wares online. We support small and medium enterprises by giving them an affordable and direct means to ship their merchandise and deliver their goods to customers all over the world. This removes the need for these businesses to deal with customs brokers, distributors and retailers.”
Postal operators “must continue to innovate. After all, digitalization and more effective online services are not just new ways to improve delivery, they are a powerful statement of the postal industry’s commitment to embrace change.” The spirit of innovation, he believes, will enable postal operators to gain momentum from the COVID-19 pandemic, and drive the industry forward.