Hanging around in the nation’s one-stop shopping experiment.
I went into my local post office yesterday to buy some stamps. It was raining and there was a queue out of the door onto the pavement and a wait of about 20 minutes to get to the counter. This left me lots of time to contemplate all the things that an average British post office now sells, which includes: postal services; banking services; savings products; telephony; insurance and financial services; bill payments; government services; post office savings stamps and quite a few other things.
I did eventually get to counter number 7.
“Ten first class stamps please”.
“Yes sir, certainly. Isn’t it a terrible day?”
“Yes, it’s wet and windy out there.” I say this as I straighten my rather windswept hair.
“Time for a haircut, sir?”
“Yes, you’re right, it probably is.”
“I can offer you a haircut now sir for just £15. We aim to be the cheapest in town.”
“We now sell haircuts sir, and you’re lucky we have an appointment slot free.”
“But this is a post office, what are you doing selling haircuts?”
“Sir, we sell a lot of things these days. It’s part of our philosophy of being customer centric. Our aim is to provide everything that our clients want.”
“But I only came in for some stamps.”
“Yes sir and you can go away with a nice haircut too. Can I book you in?”
As the counter assistance tried very hard to sell me a haircut I noticed that on either side of me other poor innocents, who had come in to simply post a letter, were being sold everything from broadband to income protection. Meanwhile, the queue got longer behind me and I realised just how high the cost, at least in time wasted, of doing business with Post Office Limited had become.
Post Office Limited has a strong public service element to justify their continued existence. Wanting to minimise costs to the Treasury they are publicly doing their very best to make ends meet, but at what cost to their clients?
The high street post office today is a horrible compromise of: service obligation; an aversion to invest in public services; and exploitation of the fact that we all need to enter one of these buildings from time to time.
Post Office Limited’s competitive advantage is that you can only really get some of these services from them. Like supermarkets they see channel dominance as worthy of leveraging, for those who value purchase convenience over market comparisons. Unfortunately, this is the era of comparison and on-line shopping and it is pretty easy to make sure you are getting the best deal these days, for most things the post office sells; surely it won’t be that long before the allure and utility of this particular one-stop shop fades?
p.s In case you are wondering, I made up the bit about haircuts.