Diversification and innovation key to resisting global financial crisis

There are challenging times ahead but it is business as usual with an eye on diversifying activities and innovations.

These were some of the key messages sent out by postal operators and representatives from e-commerce and direct marketing, such as Ebay International.

Among the operators speaking in a roundtable during the UPU high-level debate were the United States Postal Service (USPS), Poste Maroc and Hongkong Post. Representing the customer bases alongside Ebay was the Direct Mail Association, a trade organization representing more than 3,600 firms using direct marketing worldwide.

USPS Postmaster General John Potter revealed that the world's largest postal operator was grappling with the financial crisis and the downturn in mail volumes. Added to its woes were internal problems, such as a recent postal law obliging it to make multi-billion dollar contributions to a retiree health fund. However, the postmaster was committed to ensuring the USPS was equipped to deal with the future, whatever that would hold. "I am very serious about this. Tough choices have to be made in coming years. We have to step back and create a vision for the future and take steps to create that future". Potter told delegates from more than 100 UPU member countries.

Anas Alami, Director General of Poste Maroc, told the audience that the North African region, especially his own country, Morocco, had not yet felt the impact of the global economic crisis. "This could be due to liberalisation not being as advanced and low penetration of financial services" Alami said. However, the region could not expect to remain affected. Migrant remittances were already declining – a source of income worth 5 billion dollars US a year to Morocco. Alami, though, was optimistic about the long-term prospects for the postal sector in his country. In the second half of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, there was a boom in savings being deposited with Poste Maroc, which shows no sign of unabating. The low penetration of direct mail, internet and telecommunications were also areas where the Post could build up business.

One way of weathering the financial storm was to diversify – that was the advice from the Hongkong Post Acting Postmaster General, Chan Yau-fung. Chan revealed that his Post was providing value-added services to customers, such as in logistics, and creating one-stop-shops for Internet merchants.

Speaking on behalf of a potentially large client base for many Posts, Ebay's CFO, Nick Staheyeff, advised the operators present at the debate to reconsider shipping and handling issues. "Out of the top seven complaints that buyers on Ebay have, five are about shipping and handling" he said. This included high costs and complicated custom procedures. Staheyeff added that his company had noticed a marked shift in user behaviour. "People are looking for a deal. We are trying to react to and predict significant changes in our users, which are not easy in this climate."