Memorandum by the Post Office
The Post Office would be concerned about any e-commerce
policies which disregard the fact that the socially excluded do
not have easy access to the Internet. Furthermore, The Post Office
believes that IT-led policy which does not focus on customers
needs could actually increase social exclusion.
Empirical evidence and research indicate some
of the potential difficulties with achieving widespread take up
of e-commerce, including:
Growing acceptance of new technology
is counter balanced by growing technological exclusion (eg 40
per cent of United Kingdom unbanked households do not have a phone).
Evidence that consumers require new
channels to supplement rather than replace traditional channels.
Growing social inequality in the
United Kingdom, which has the third worst "poverty index"
in the developed world.
New players in traditional industries
are generally reluctant to target poorer sectors of society.
Existing players are increasingly
adopting a "supply push" approach (eg charging for branch
or ATM usage) to shed low net worth customers or accelerate channel
Taking the example of the United Kingdom Government's
own drive towards e-government, this approach is characterised
by the fact that Government Departments have e-government targets
but not multi-channel access targets. Recent Cabinet Office research
via The Peoples Panel revealed that 25 per cent of citizens over
50 would refuse to use the Internet or telephone advice lines.
This led Ian McCartney to comment "we must ensure that the
use of new technology does not isolate older people". However,
there has been no discernible change in the approach from Government.
Staying with the Government's e-activities,
the general industry view is that e-government is being achieved
at faster rate than joined-up-government. However, because many
of the cultural barriers within Government have yet to be tackled,
IT is often badly deployed. Thus various recent studies by Government
(see extracts at Appendix 1) have been critical of high profile
failures in Government IT projects caused by a lack of user focus
and a failure to learn from past mistakes.
A MULTI CHANNEL
The Post Office believes that the development
of e-commerce must be within a multi-channel framework and that
The Post Office has a unique role of offer in providing citizens
with a socially inclusive, multi-channel network for the following
The Post Office consistently rates highly with
both consumers and opinion formers for qualities such as trust,
service, importance to the community, familiarity etc. These brand
strengths are particularly important in the delivery of Government
The Post Office can offer 18,500 outlets, delivery
to every household and business in the country and call centres.
This reach is particularly valuable in areas such as rural and
deprived wards which are not well covered by other channel providers.
In addition The Post Office is developing Internet and kiosk/ATM
services to provide additional choice and access both within and
outside post offices.
28 million different customers make over 43
million visits to post offices every week. The socio demographic
breakdown of these customers closely represents the United Kingdom
population in terms of class, age and sex. Moreover our most frequent
visitors are the more vulnerable segments of society, ie females,
the old, the poor, who would not necessarily have easy access
to the Internet. SMEs are also a key customer segment with over
90 per cent of all micro-business (below nine employees) using
post offices regularly.
Post offices deliver over 170 different products
and services and Government Services are a core offering within
this range. We intend to offer an even broader and deeper range
of Government Services and information to underline our role as
a specialist provider in this market. Our ability to provide and
"bundle" Government Services with a range of appropriate
voluntary and private sector services (eg bill payment) will also
Our ability to deliver/collect information,
products and payments securely and on a large scale is unrivalled.
In particular our capabilities in advertising, cash handling,
transaction processing/accounting, fraud prevention and distribution/logistics
can be invaluable to the delivery of Government and other services.
The Horizon programme will see all post offices
automated and networked with a highly secure system. The technology
includes bar code/mag Stripe/smartcard readers, on-line messaging/authorisation
processes and printing.
An automated post office network can provide
IT for all in a familiar and friendly environment.
Economies of scale
The national coverage and scale of The Post
Office can deliver significant benefits in the delivery of Government
and other services which no other organisation can offer. These
benefits include consolidation opportunities, economies of scale
and nationwide consistency.
Collaborative working will be essential in the
co-ordinated delivery of e-commerce policies. The reputation of
The Post Office and its position between the public and private
sectors make it a trusted and attractive partner for a range of
organisations. In particular we believe we can be an effective
catalyst for partnerships between Government Departments, Local
Authorities, the voluntary sector (eg NACAB) and a range of private
sector IT service providers. We are already in partnership discussions
with a range of these organisations.
Research via the Peoples Panel has identified
post offices as the preferred location of a one-stop-shop for
Government Services over banks, supermarkets, local authorities
Ian McCartney has convened a "Channels"
consultation group to which The Post Office was invited along
with banks, supermarkets and a range of cable/digital TV companies.
The attendees have commented on the Government's channel policies,
which were outlined in a document attached to the White Paper.
The Post Office response was submitted w/c 7 February (see Executive
summary at Appendix 2).
The main issue we have highlighted is that the
policies do not constitute a Government channel strategy and some
of the policies may be counterproductive (eg cause greater social
10 May 2000