Post office transformation

Canada Post has launched its latest retail concept store designed for the digital age – find out how Canadians are reacting to the change

 
In the busy age of online shopping, consumer expectations are changing. In response, businesses have been innovating – and so has Canada Post.
 
While we’ve introduced various new shipping and delivery services, last year we decided to also look at our post offices. We wanted to see if we could reimagine that environment for the digital age.
 

The third retail concept store opened in Vancouver in November, continuing Canada Post’s push to test post office innovations that serve the country’s growing number of online shoppers.

 
Using our experience in e-commerce we knew this would involve more self-serve technology and time-saving features for the online shopper. But how these would translate to the post office environment was somewhat of an unknown. So we decided to find out.
 
Over the last year, we have launched three concept stores as a way to test innovations. We just opened the newest one in downtown Vancouver this month. We opened another in Edmonton in July, and the first one in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto, in October 2015.
 
Two of the stores have a drive thru. They all have self-serve kiosks for shipping a parcel, and vending machines where you can buy stamps or other products 24/7. They also all have a fitting room where you can try on the outfit you bought online and just picked up.
 
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How are Canadians using them? We asked John Reis (pictured above), General Manager, Retail, for Canada Post.
 
Q. Tell me one thing any customer said when they first walked into the new Vancouver concept store.
A. A huge online seller comes to us every day in Vancouver with hundreds of parcels to ship. She walked in for the first time, looked around and said, ‘This is nicer than the Apple store.’ That’s pretty cool.
 
Q. So how are customers responding?
A. They love these outlets. We’re seeing that in the business they’re generating and in the customer satisfaction survey responses. They love the ease of use, the new look and feel.
 
One day I was in Edmonton, and talked to a senior who came through the drive-thru. He told me his mobility was not what it used to be, and he thought it was the best thing in the world to be able to stay in his car and get served. The very next car was a young mom with two small kids in the back, and she said it was fantastic that she didn’t have to wrestle them out of and back into their car seats.
 
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The drive-thru parcel pick-up at our concept stores located in Richmond Hill, Ont., and Edmonton has become a customer favourite.

 
Q. Any other signs that convenience really matters?
A. Think about how busy everybody is. When we save people time, when we let them do what they need when it’s convenient in their schedule, we’re improving the customer experience.
 
People are buying items from the vending machine in the 24/7 area after 9 p.m., when post offices are closed. In Richmond Hill, about one in 3 customers use the drive-thru, mostly to pick up a parcel. And a lot of pickups are after 5 p.m., when people just want to get home or go out and enjoy the evening.
 

In 2015, Canada Post opened the first retail concept store in Richmond Hill, Ont., featuring a drive-thru, fitting room and self-serve 24/7 parcel shipping station.

 
We planned the drive-thru to be dedicated to parcel pickup, but it turns out customers wanted full service there. One of the first customers to drive up wanted a passport application form.
Part of an innovator’s mindset is that you adjust quickly if you realize your customers have different expectations. We adapted right away, so that anything you could get or do inside, you can get or do at the window.
 
Q. Except try on your new outfit…
A. Right – the fitting room’s inside, secure and private.
 
Q. And some retailers are trying pop-up stores in the concept store.
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Bedface, a B.C.-based online retailer that offers a colourful variety of sheets and bedding for online shoppers, hosted a pop-up shop at the Vancouver concept store in November. The retailer was also a finalist at this year’s Canada Post E-commerce Innovation Awards in the Most Exciting Start-up category.

 
A. That can be a win-win. Canada is full of these great online retailers, and Canada Post works with them hand-in-glove. It’s a novel element to have in a post office, which helps customers realize how Canada Post is changing, but it’s also great exposure for these retail brands.
 
Q. Did you do anything different in Vancouver – some fresh innovation?
A. We did – and one, I think, is fantastic. It’s prepaid flat rate boxes. So if it fits, it ships. There’s three sizes: small for $13.50, medium for $16.25, and large for $19.99. Again, it’s all about ease and convenience.
 
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We’ve launched this test in Vancouver and about 30 other locations. One small business customer came in, bought 25 and took them home. Now when they make an online sale, they just put the item in, and can drop it in a street letter box or bring it to a post office. I’m pretty bullish on the success these will have.
 
In Vancouver, customers send a lot of parcels out of the country, so as well as items within Canada, we made it possible to use the self-serve machines to send USA and International parcels, once the customer has completed the customs for online.
 
Q. Is the customer adoption of new self-serve technology living up to your expectations?
A. We’re happy. When the self-serve technology is simple and easy to use, and customers have convenient access, it drives up adoption. At Richmond Hill, more than one in 3 customers wanting to ship a parcel use the self-serve kiosk. That’s more than expected.
 
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In Edmonton, different store hours encourage customers to try the self-serve kiosks and the drive-thru. So we’re seeing higher usage in Edmonton for the drive-thru, the self-serve parcel kiosk and vending machine.
 
Q. Each concept store is a little different. Why?
A. To test slightly different elements to see what customers prefer. There are also practical reasons, like how much space we had, whether it was an existing building with a drive-thru. The location also influences the mix of customers you get.
 
Vancouver’s concept store is right downtown, so it has a lot of large volume mailers and receivers and small business customers. A lot of customers are selling online, so we see lots of parcels and parcel pickups.
 
Q. Where will Canada Post go next with concept stores?
A. There are elements of the design we’ll begin to roll out to some of our other existing stores. For example, the counters are more like pods. They allow the retail clerk to come out and help the customer, which is a real positive for the customer experience.
 
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In 2017, we will continue to test self-serve in some franchise locations, to see what adoption looks like in their environment. We’ll test it too in some high-volume stores in major centres. Moving simple transactions to self-serve will reduce lineups.

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