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July 29, 2013

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Reinvention giving post offices a new lease of life

There was a time when your local post office would mainly sell stamps and deliver letters. No longer.

To counteract the turmoil brought on by emails and text messages, postal services worldwide have reinvented themselves, taking on the technological revolution that once looked to cripple them.

Traditional snail mail service has dropped sharply in recent years, though emerging countries are a notable exception.

According to the Universal Postal Union, global letter- and light parcel delivery dropped by 3.7 percent in 2011 from a year earlier, and by 5.1 percent when just counting Europe and the former Soviet Union.

And the death of letter-writing has forced postal services worldwide to either catch on new trends or disappear.

Earlier this month, Britain announced plans to privatize over half of Royal Mail in a bid to transform it into a modern communication business.

Amid the dwindling delivery numbers for letters and large packages, there is hope: parcels weighing less than two kilograms. They “have seen an incredible growth thanks to Internet shopping,” said Wendy Eitan of UPU.

The key, she said, is for postal services to take advantage of their reputed reliability and the trust they instill. “In the eyes of the public, the postal service remains the trusted third party to certify electronic correspondence or to arrange the return of goods” linked to e-commerce, she said.

Online shopping, and the millions of parcels it generates, has become a boon for a new type of postal industry.

One of those players is Germany’s Deutsche Post, which is investing 750 million euros (US$990 million) in expanding its package delivery network by adding 20,000 new reception points.

Similarly, PostNord Ñ Sweden and Denmark’s merged postal services Ñ is seeing a turnaround thanks to its focus on online parcel delivery.

Bank operations and mobile telephony are other venues being explored. Italy’s Poste Italiane today runs some six million deposit accounts and has sold around three million SIM cards for mobile phones.

In Argentina, the Correo Oficial now offers the sale of mobile phone top-ups as well as tax payment services, describing itself as a modern organization that offers “complex operations.”

In 2015, Brazil’s postal service plans to start selling mobile phone usage, with “the idea to have our own telephone brand.”


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