Consumer perspectives on postal service revealed

16 October 2012

Ofcom has today published results from the most comprehensive research ever undertaken by the regulator into the needs of UK postal users.

Over 4,000 residential consumers and 1,100 businesses were surveyed, and eight discussion groups took place in locations across the UK, to allow customers to voice their views about the UK's postal service.1

UK consumers and businesses benefit from the universal postal service, which requires Royal Mail to deliver to every address in the UK six days a week at affordable and uniform prices. Ofcom is required by law to carry out an assessment on whether the postal service is meeting consumers' needs.2

Consumers and businesses were asked to give opinions on the current postal service; how they use it and their needs from it.

The research represents a key part of the evidence that Ofcom is gathering to decide whether users' reasonable needs are met by the current postal service. Under the terms of the Postal Services Act, this review must be concluded by 31 March 2013. Ofcom is inviting views on the findings from its research.

Changing postal habits

Consumers say they are relying less on the postal service and increasingly substituting post with electronic methods of communication such as the internet, email, telephone and text.3

The research suggests that the average number of items sent by residential consumers each week has more than halved since 2006 (from 3.5 to 1.5 items), while over a fifth of consumers (22%) expect to send even less mail in three years time.

Eighty-two per cent of residential consumers and 87% of businesses agree, however, that there are some things they will always need to send by post, including personal communications such as greeting cards and parcels and packets.

Needs of consumers

The research identified consumers' core needs from the postal service. These include:  simplicity, trust, speed, affordability and a service that fits in with modern day life.

Ofcom's research shows that, in general, the postal service largely satisfies these core needs. In addition, nine out of 10 residential and business consumers consider the current level of service to be acceptable.4

In order to understand the needs of consumers and businesses and establish the parts of the postal service they value, respondents were asked to give their opinion on a variety of potential changes to the service.  Key research findings include:

More convenient packet and parcel services and flexible re-delivery

Internet shopping is fuelling an increase in the number of packets and parcels being received by consumers. Around a third (35%) of residential users receive packets and parcels at least once a month, up from 27% in 2010. Half (51%) also predict that they will be ordering more goods that are delivered by post in three years time.

Consumers want easier and more flexible ways to receive parcels and packets. Suggested improvements to Royal Mail's basic parcel delivery service included changes to delivery office opening hours, improved tracking services, and the ability to select a delivery time-slot.

Consumers' opinions on speed of delivery

The majority of consumers use First Class (the current next-day delivery service), over Second Class. Fifty-nine per cent of residential consumers use First Class all or most of the time, while 66% of mail sent by businesses is via the First Class service.

However, few in comparison (9% of residential consumers), say they need to deal with all or most of their post on the same day it arrives. This pattern is reflected to some extent by business users, with 15% saying they need to deal with all or most of their post on the day it arrives.

When given the choice, 59% of residential consumers and 58% of businesses had a preference for a single class of service (less expensive than First Class, but delivered in two days), over the current two-tier service.5

Comparatively, 36% of residential consumers and 41% of businesses preferred the existing service where First Class is normally delivered within one day while Second Class is normally delivered within three.

Consumers' views on collection and delivery

Currently, Royal Mail must collect and deliver letters Monday to Saturday and other packets Monday to Friday. To help establish the need for a six-day service, participants were asked to consider its value against other alternatives: delivery and collection on Saturday plus four weekdays; and five days a week, Monday to Friday.

Both businesses and residential consumers consider midweek delivery and collection to be of value. Residential consumers hold greater value for Saturday collection and delivery than businesses.

Current collection and delivery days are specified in the Postal Services Act. The Government has ruled out any changes to the minimum requirements of the universal postal service during this Parliament.

Next Steps

Stakeholders are invited to respond to the Review of postal users' needs consultation by 18 December 2012.



  1. Ofcom's market research comprised of 1) a qualitative study conducted by Ipsos MORI consisting of eight workshops of about 20 residential users in each, and meetings and in-depth interviews with medium and large businesses. The research was conducted in locations across the 4 UK nations, including deep rural and off-shore locations. The main workshops lasted 3.5 hours; 2) a quantitative study conducted by TNS-BMRB consisting of face-to-face interviews with 4,085 residential respondents over 16 years old and telephone interviews with 1,126 businesses.  Specific sub-groups were boosted to give us the ability to report on these (e.g. remote rural areas).  Businesses that had no spend on sending letters or packets were excluded from the research.
  2. The Postal Services Act 2011 requires Ofcom to carry out an assessment of the extent to which the postal market meets the reasonable needs of users within eighteen months of our taking over responsibility for postal regulation, i.e. by 31 March 2013.
  3. 17% more users said they use email and text more than they did two years ago, than said they used email and text less than two years ago. 64% of users agree that new technology has changed the way they communicate. Ofcom, The Communications Market Report, 18 July 2012, Figures 1. 21 and 1.24,
  4. 92.8% of residential consumers and 93.9% of businesses consider the current postal service to be acceptable
  5. The survey presented three choices to users: the current service, a single, two-day service at 53p and 95% quality of service, and a single, two-day service at 55p with a 98% quality of service.  36% of residential users and 41% of businesses preferred the current First and Second Class service, 59% of residential users preferred one of the two single, two-day service options, and 58% of businesses preferred one of the two single, two-day service option.