Most of us living in highly urbanized areas of Australia have had the experience of finding the dreaded Australia Post Ticket upon arriving home after work. No sooner do we see the ticket than we realize, feeling slightly sick, that we will most likely need to find time during working hours to physically go to the post office with our identification over the next few days, join a long queue, and retrieve a package. Worse, our partner cannot do this task for us, if the package is addressed to us alone; and we know from experience that if we ring the phone number on the ticket, all we will succeed in doing after being on hold is to confirm that the package exists and will soon be on its merry way back from whence it came, if we do not hurry up and come get it. Arranging for its actual delivery is out of the question.

We can of course ignore the whole issue, and forego whatever goods are in the package, which I have done more than once. Depending on where you live, there may be an option of signing the ticket with a big red tick-mark next to “Please Leave Package” and praying upon your departure that morning that the postman will actually leave the package on your doorstep. In some locations this might not be wise due to the likelihood of theft. Where I live at least, this is not an option because the postman simply does not deliver packages. Period.

I would like to think that this is not entirely his fault. He may well be instructed by the main office to cover his route so quickly that he essentially has no choice. He already must fight with the ubiquitous antique letterboxes constructed to be just large enough to accommodate approximately one formal acceptance of your luncheon invitation, one handwritten thank-you note from the neighbour for the lovely daffodils, and two small calling-cards from travelling salesmen. The perennial creative folding and stuffing (not to mention tearing) of modern mail that are therefore part of our postman’s everyday job already slow him down and frustrate him. Finding some way to actually deliver packages – including not only lugging them around but ringing doorbells, often hanging around until he realizes no one is coming, and filling out and leaving tickets on the spot – is probably just a bridge too far, particularly considering that to make it through his route on time he almost must use one of those little AusPost mopeds, on which there is simply no space to carry packages. So, he fills out all package tickets before he leaves the distribution centre, and heads off each day with no intent of delivering any packages.

Or so I wish to believe. It could be that our postmen are simply getting away with doing less than their full job because of poor monitoring, the monopolistic hue of AusPost, and/or sticky labor contracts.

Whatever the reason, the non-delivery of packages results in a huge cost shift from the post office to consumers. The asymmetry involved in the actual trade is also unusual: the person or business sending the package, often sitting in some foreign land, does not have to pay any extra cost if it is not actually carried the final kilometer or so to our door. If the recipient does not build the expected package-pickup cost into his decision about whether or not to make the trade in the first place, then the trade perhaps should not have even occurred.

In the long run of course, that cost should be built into our decisions. Yet do we really accept that for some Australia-specific reason, our postal infrastructure cannot exploit the returns to scale in package delivery that are exploited by the national postal systems in other developed countries? Besides, do we really want Aussie consumers ordering less stuff from overseas because of what is effectively a big fat import tax? Doesn’t sound very FTA to me.

Even without knowing the AusPost revenue or cost structures in detail, we can still weigh up a few potential economic options for addressing this problem.

  1. Have Aus Post admit (which won’t be easy) that they cannot deliver every package on the day it arrives. Have a logistics team work out an optimal day of the week on which packages will be delivered for each postal route, and advise residents. Allocate a van or some other cheap but capacious vehicle for the postman to use on that day, rather than his moped. If recipients are home on that day, then their package is delivered; if not, they must deal with the Dreaded Ticket. I predict that this would solve 50% of the problem, and reduce post office queues accordingly.
  2. Allow people to sign up for subsidized package-hold services at their local post offices, whereby any packages delivered to their address are held for some reasonable amount of time – at least a month or two – in order to allow the recipient enough time to find a chance to collect them. This idea is already being trialled by the private sector.
  3. Use a tiered pricing system, where guaranteed actual delivery of a package is an extra service that attracts a higher price, similar to the idea of registered versus regular mail. One problem here is integrating the different options effectively into the infinite variety of senders’ online ordering platforms. However, this could also be implemented as a default on the recipient side, whereby a consumer can sign up (for a price) for a “deliver my packages” premium service that kicks in by default whenever a package arrives.
  4. Have the government offer partial subsidies for consumers to replace their antique mailboxes with some receptacle that can accommodate as much incoming mail as a standard post office box, with no stuffing or tearing required. Use the accumulated time savings across an entire postal route to fund an extra package-delivery run across the route at the end of each day.

18 Responses to Deliver me from Australia Post

  1. Zebee says:

    5. have a locker system where you can pick up after hours.

    AusPost is trialling this in Sydney and Melbourne, and I’ve tried it.

    Plus is it works for most parcels. I give the sender my parcel locker address and I get an SMS and email when my parcel is delivered there. I have 24 hr access to it, enter a keycode, take parcel.

    The downside is you only have 2 working days to get it, plus of course you have to be very lucky to be near the big delivery centres they are using as trials.

    It costs me an extra $6 in train fare to get the parcel but if I couldn’t vary my working hours to pick up then I’d probably be happy to pay that.

    6. have the package transferred to a post office closer to your place of work so you can pick up at lunch time.

    I’ve done this too, but now the fee is quite close to the above train fare so it’s not all that attractive.

    Ideally they’d do what Amazon do: cut a deal with 7/11 or Shell or similar to have 2 or 3 parcel lockers at late night shops/servos and for a small fee you can pick your stuff up from those. Problem of course being how much does the locker infrastructure cost and can the partner recoup that from fees and extra sales while keeping the fee low enough to be attractive?

    It would have to be less than the post office charge for transferring to another post office. And how could they determine usage patterns?

    • Gigi Foster says:

      Yes, a locker system is a variant of my option 2. The scale economies should support the costs of this being absorbed by AusPost in the most central areas, though people in the suburbs may end up having to share in the costs unless a willing partner can be found who expects sufficient foot-traffic-driven inpulse purchases to make it sensible. 7-11s and other convenience shops that are looking for a leg up on the competition might find it worthwhile to try such a joint venture with the post office, or indeed with other package delivery services. It requires some creative networking though – getting managers of these stores together with people they wouldn’t run into every day – and probably someone high up at AusPost who takes it on as a pet initiative.

  2. Matt G says:

    In my experience private couriers are not much better. My employer doesn’t allow delivery at the reception and I am not always available to receive a package. consequently packages have been directed to my home address which has resulted in the package being left at depot for collection. Where it should be noted that the depot is open from 8am to 5:30pm during weekdays for collection and is located well away from my workplace.
    This is characteristic of several courier companies.
    Hardly any different to Auspost.

  3. Brad says:

    Most post offices offer longer hours for parcel pickup, usually from around 6am in my experience.

  4. AusPost knows about these problems, and I think you will see some creative solutions coming.

    In my experience, yes, your spouse can pick up your parcels if their ID shows the same home address.

    Also I agree that large parcel-style mailboxes will become more common. I’ve thought of making one myself, but happen to live close to the post office and have flexible hours. When I make one I’ll post some photos online – start the revolution!

  5. Tony Healy says:

    You could use Air Tasker to collect from the PO.

    https://www.airtasker.com/

    I don’t think it’s fair to blame Australia Post or their posties. Delivering packages is a huge no-win for AP, because it requires additional posties to compensate for delivery delays, and it exposes AP to complaints and liability when packages go missing, get wet or get damaged by dogs.

    Not sure about the reference to “labor contracts.” Most posties are casual, getting paid less than $40,000 per year for a job which requires them to tramp around the suburbs in all weathers. As far as I’m aware, their “contracts” are pretty one-sided, and not to their benefit. The wonders of labour flexibility.

    • Gigi Foster says:

      Hiring somebody to collect my packages is just another way in which i would then pay an extra cost for delivery. Rather than my time (or rather, in addition to my time, since i would still have to go on the airtasker website, post a request, and manage the responses), it’s my money.

      I don’t know the details of the AusPost cost structure, which is why i cannot say for sure that delivering packages is a “huge no-win”. As a consumer and a believer in free information though, i don’t want to be fed an untruth that the package i send today to my friend in Darwin will actually be delivered to her. If AusPost can’t reliably deliver packages, then it should say so, so the public can get over it and explore alternatives. Nonethless, from observing how things work in many other countries, i suspect there are some scale economies here that are not being exploited by AusPost.

      As far as “blaming” postmen, it is not a question of blame, but of economics. Once someone figures out and brings to market a preferable alternative package-delivery service to AusPost, it will attract consumers, and those postmen will eventually find themselves a new job working for a more efficient and therefore ultimately more profitable company. Ah, the joys of technical progress.

  6. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:

    When I asked about this at the post office, the worker there (who obviously gets asked alot and is left to deal with the long lines of ticket holders) indicated that it was the time constraints on the package delivery men. They already do have a van it seems, so there’s no gains there. The problem from their end is whether they take the (in your estimation) 50% chance that someone will answer the door, or whether they choose to save a minute and avoid being reprimanded for doing their round slow whilst facing a negligible risk they will be reprimanded for not knocking on the door.

    The incentives are very asymmetrical.

    There could be incentives on management that take into account complaints from people who got a ticket whilst being at home in the indicated hours, but there’s no incentive to implement these incentives from higher management.

  7. Richard Scott says:

    My understanding is that most (if not all) Parcel delivery is done by subcontractors using vans in any case. I suspect they’re not generously paid, judging from the vans I’ve seen at our local delivery centre, but they won’t often go the extra mile. Had a textbook not delivered yesterday because the child who answered the door was under 15. Mailman didn’t bother asking if anyone else was home – so 6km round trip to parcel centre ensued. Not happy.

  8. moom says:

    I think it is silly that some of the other parcel services actually even try to deliver packages to residential addresses without first checking that someone will be there. My assumption has been that Australia Post does not deliver parcels to residential addresses. What would be good is if there was a longer time window to pick it up from the Post Office.

  9. caf says:

    I believe Richard Scott is correct, parcels are delivered by contractors using vans rather than the salaried posties on bikes that deliver letters.

    Presumably these contractors are expected to actually knock on the door and try to deliver the parcels, otherwise AusPost wouldn’t need them – if they just wanted the pickup cards delivered then they could have the regular posties deliver those with the letters. In practice however, it seems that they don’t – it is a common story for someone to be home all day and yet find the dreaded red ticket rather than a knock on the door.

    So many of the parcel delivery contractors are actually ripping off AusPost.

  10. retrogrouch says:

    Australia Post is not alone in this – have you used FedEx lately? At least my local post office is close by. A missed FedEx delivery means an hour’s round trip for me.

  11. JJ says:

    There is an alternative if you are lucky enough. We are in Heidelberg and have a local Australia Post outlet as part of the newsagent. No queueing, friendly owners of the newsagent and open all day Saturday.

  12. San says:

    Ripping off Australia Post, your dreaming right? You call $8 an hour ripping them off. Australia Post is ripping everyone off including contractors. I guess you can’t please everyone. Some want it left, others don’t Aust Post want us to unless signature required. Time limits to actual pay ratio are appalling and slavery. Hell, i have even had to deliver broken items because Aust Post holds no responsibility but then i cop the abuse as if i did it. That is why i left many years ago. If you knocked on every door and delivered every parcel that way, would probably lose money. Also where i was, postie bikes would deliver smaller parcels. There was a lot of beauracracy thats for sure.

  13. MyParcelBox says:

    Given we’re replying to an aging post, just thought I’d mention that MyParcelBox will be operating soon- secure delivery boxes for parcels fixed at your home!
    Look out for the media coverage and website later this month myparcelbox.com.au

  14. cjs says:

    Why can’t Australia Post simply run an afternoon shift for parcel delivery? Most people will be at home negating the need for double handling back at the post office and smaller customer queues. There’s less traffic on the road at that time and deliveries could be done from 5 – 9 pm. I can’t why this has never been done.

  15. Kim Liu says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed Gigi.
    Following a recent eBay spending spree, this has become my biggest first world problem, after of course the unrelenting access to internet shopping…

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