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Post Office Local Review

2 February 2017

The post office network is approaching the end of the biggest restructuring programme in its history. By 2018, around 8,000 branches will have been modernised and moved to new business models. Almost half of the total network is being converted to the Post Office (PO) Local model, with many moving away from traditional stand-alone post offices into other businesses. Our previous research showed that this had, in some cases, led to a drop in consumer experience and quality of service.

the red post

This report [ 0.57 mb] provides a unique overview of PO Locals by combining analysis of branch performance and consumer satisfaction. It compares how PO Locals are performing in relation to our previous waves of research. And, for the first time, it compares performance of PO Locals to traditional sub-post offices.

Our research suggests that PO Locals are currently performing well, with particular improvements in some areas (such as parcel collection services)  compared to previous waves. Moreover, PO Locals are generally performing in line with - or in some cases slightly better than - traditional models. Almost 9 in 10 (86%) customers report that their PO Local is accessible and a similar proportion (84%) are satisfied with the service they receive.

The model appears to have been successful in maintaining traditional Post Office features while being located alongside other retailers. Mail services still dominate, with 93% of customers having used first and second class services in the last 12 months. PO Locals have a loyal customer base, with 3 in 4 visiting at least monthly.  

The new model is affecting consumers in different ways. PO Locals appear most popular among younger and more affluent customers, who are particularly likely to use premium mail and parcel services. They are also more likely to access Post Office services outside core hours. Conversely, many of the Post Office’s core customers, such as older, disabled and lower income consumers, are slightly less satisfied with PO Locals and are less likely to use extended hours.

While our research shows that PO Locals are generally performing in line with sub-post offices, the new model appears to have led to some trade-offs. Customers are more likely to be happy about improved access to counters and queue times, but more likely to be unhappy about counter space and privacy. And while queue times are generally lower outside core hours, so are service standards at the counter. We find 4 areas that Post Office Limited (POL) and operators should address to avoid consumer detriment and to protect the network’s sustainability:

Accessibility is better than for previous waves and sub-post offices, but still leaves significant room for improvement. Over 1 in 5 disabled customers do not feel that PO Locals cater to their needs. Our mystery shopping shows that hearing loops were only visible in 1 in 4 cases and portable PIN pads were only available in 3 in 5 (61%).

Service communication and provision should be improved, as 17% of customers say they have been unable to access services that they expected to be available. Some consumers appear unsure of what services their branch should provide, but our evidence also shows some branches are failing to offer their full contracted range of services. For example, almost 3 in 10 failed to support general cash deposits.

Single, appropriate recommendations were generally not made without additional prompting. The majority of staff across 3 of our mail mystery shopping scenarios - particularly outside core hours - provided a correct product but alongside other options. This can be confusing for customers and lead to them buying a less appropriate service.

Waiting times have increased for customers who are not served immediately. Although 2 in 3 are served without having to wait, the remaining consumers are waiting for an average of 2 minutes 35 seconds. This figure has increased steadily over consecutive waves of research, up from 45 seconds in 2012. It is also slightly longer than the equivalent figure for sub-post offices.

We make the following recommendations to support continued improvement of the PO Local model.

  1. POL and operators should ensure that disabled access measures are in place and clearly communicated in branches. They should particularly focus on improving portable PIN pad and hearing loop provision.

  2. POL should ensure that PO Local staff are sufficiently trained and aware of their obligation to ask appropriate questions to enable them to offer a single recommendation to customers.

  3. Operators should ensure that they have clear signs to communicate their  post office opening hours and the services they provide. This will help promote extended hours (where relevant) and ensure that customers have appropriate expectations of services.

  4. POL and operators should seek to build on recent improvements in the availability of services, particularly focusing on current and business account deposits as well as parcel collection services.