One new postal delivery firm delivers to a smart locker. Another doesn’t require the sender to know an address
You don’t have to speak Estonian to understand the universal frustrations of picking up a parcel at a post office. Two new start-up postal services cater to the young and mobile, and promise to make the process more pleasant and efficient. Both happen to have approached me recently, in short order.
SmartPost, featured in the advertisement above, hails from Estonia. Filling a gap in the country (expensive and poor public postal service, no nationwide courier services), the firm has developed a system of lockers and tied them together with sophisticated software. Online and catalogue shoppers can have goods delivered to one of 36 locations. To open the lockers, the firm sends users a text message with a code.
Such locker systems have been around for some time. DHL, a logistics company, for instance, has been operating a network of “parcel stations” in Germany for years (using terminals from Keba, an Austrian firm). But SmartPost’s offering, says Indrek Oolup, the firm’s chief executive, has improved on the concept in several ways, notably by using smarter software and putting the terminals near where people are, meaning mostly in supermarkets. More than a third of all parcels sent from businesses to consumers in Estonia is now shipped using SmartPost. In May, CPCR Express, Russia’s largest privately funded postal company, announced that it will install at least 100 of the locker terminals.
SendSocial, a start-up in Britain, allows consumers to send packages to people even if they do not have their postal address – by showing SendSocial that they are friends on Facebook or by providing the addressee’s Twitter ID. The firm then turns around and sends a request to the addressee to get the delivery details. If she accepts, collection and payment details are confirmed, and the sender receives a label with delivery information – but without the real address, which is not divulged during the transaction.
This may sound a bit complicated, but Jonathan Grubin, SendSocial’s boss, expects that there will be much interest in such a service: “We live in a world of increasing nomadic existences and a constant lack of time. With physical addresses changing so quickly, very often a Twitter ID or email address remain the only constant.” In May, the firm signed a deal with ByBox, which maintains a network of 3,500 drop boxes in Britain (a low-tech version of SmartPost’s system).
Now, if there are two, there must be more. So any examples of innovative postal services are gratefully received. I may pull them together in a piece for the offline Economist.