Updated for 2017
Royal Mail is on thin ice with business owners. The organisation, which has long been criticised by the business community, is suffering from an exodus of customers dissatisfied with delays, short opening hours, and unpredictable service.
And just as importantly, prices are continuing to rise. Coupled with a recent furore over a huge payment to shareholders, the business perception of Royal Mail is faltering.
A significant and increasing proportion of businesses are now looking for a better way of getting their letters and packages delivered. So what are the main alternatives to Royal Mail?
Royal Mail has an increasingly lengthy list of serious competitors. Many of these companies are responding directly to concerns raised in the business community about Royal Mail. As such, you may well find that one of these firms can offer you the service you need.
There are also hundreds of independent delivery firms of varying sizes operating across the country. From the outset, you should understand that these are likely to be more expensive than Royal Mail if you are only sending a low volume of mail. Furthermore, none of them are required to offer a universal service; only the Royal Mail is obliged to deliver to every address. This means that you might struggle to find a suitable provider if you need to have things delivered to more obscure areas.
If you send a high volume of mail, you may well have already looked at other ways of getting your items delivered. Have a look at some of the marketing material that landed on your doormat this morning. Companies of every size have now forsaken Royal Mail altogether, and instead are choosing smaller competitors. For high-volume campaigns this is often more cost-effective.
Remember, though, that many of these competitors actually use Royal Mail themselves for the ‘final mile’. The person who pushed that marketing leaflet through your door was a postman, employed by Royal Mail. This is particularly important during strike periods.
Looking for other delivery options for your small business, especially for lower volumes of post? Here's our list of alternatives.
If you just need to deliver the odd item, small-scale courier services may be the best option. Most big cities have a range of cycle or motorbike courier firms that will deliver urgent packages at relatively low cost within a defined area.
Of course, this is only really an option for urgent items that need to be delivered places nearby. Courier services of this sort are not generally suitable for consumer-facing deliveries, and long-distance use is prohibitively expensive.
There is a range of services designed specifically for those selling on eBay. Many of these offer flat-fee postage for items up to a certain weight. This has the dual benefits of making your profit calculations easier, and ensuring that potential customers understand your postage costs.
Companies like Collect+ offer services tailored to eBay sellers. This firm will deliver a parcel from £4.99, but you are required to drop it off at a corner shop near you. According to Collect+ there are some 3,000 drop-off locations across the country. Arrangements of this type are becoming increasingly popular, as they enable delivery firms to offer lower prices.
Royal Mail’s continuing travails are caused in great part by the growth of online communications. The internet has meant that the number of people who need to use the postal service has declined significantly.
As a business owner, you should be thinking about ways that you can move your communications online. Are you still sending cheques? It is extraordinary how many firms still are. If yours is one of them, consider using online bank transfers or services like Paypal instead. They are far quicker, and the risk of having your cheque lost in the post is eliminated.
Similarly, while direct mail certainly still has its uses, you should look at the benefits of email marketing. This is often significantly cheaper than its paper equivalent, and can encourage higher levels of customer interaction.
Royal Mail is here to stay in some form or another. But that doesn’t mean you need to put up with its vagaries. By shopping around you might well be able to find a competitor that will provide a better service, for less.
Which delivery firm do you use for your business? Let us know below.
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