Unlikely game changer

How Canada Post made the online retail revolution possible

Some people refer to what’s happening in retail as a revolution – and they’re right. As the General Manager of Parcels and E-commerce Market Development at Canada Post I have witnessed it firsthand.

The meteoric rise in online shopping has utterly transformed the retail landscape in Canada. It’s defined now by virtual stores, mobile commerce and new heights of customer conveniences. It’s populated by entrepreneurial stars who are grabbing hold of a channel still in its infancy and showing off its vast disruptive possibilities.

It’s true, Canadians were a little late to the game. Shoppers and retailers in the US and the UK embraced e-commerce much faster. But we’re catching up. Today, eight out of 10 Canadians shop online.

So, what does all this have to do with Canada Post?

Would you be surprised if I said that without Canada Post the scale of the retail transformation wouldn’t have been possible? That our role in building the digital economy of the future is crucial?

The beginning of the end?

We tend to hear that Canada Post is a dinosaur ripe for extinction in the digital age. It’s not hard to see why. Mail volumes are down roughly 32% over 10 years – the equivalent of 1.6 billion fewer pieces in the mail. What’s the incentive to send letters when you can instant message in one touch?

The inevitable ubiquity of digital communication could have spelled the end of Canada Post, if not for one unexpected side-effect. It simultaneously unleashed the potential to buy and sell products online, actual physical parcels that had to be delivered. The same digital forces that were ushering us to the museum of things past began calling us to a brand new future.

This nice bit of irony offered us an opportunity to not only reshape our future, but to help enable businesses of all sizes to reposition for theirs. If that sounds like I’m overstating our importance, let me explain.

Unparalleled capacity

To get online shopping orders from global warehouses, national distribution centres or local retail stores to any of the 15.8 million addresses in Canada requires a massive machinery of logistics, transportation, shipping and delivery. After more than 250 years in the delivery business, Canada Post is the only company in this country that has that network. It’s not even close.

Our capacity to move parcels is unequaled, which is why retailers depend on us to deliver nearly two out of every three parcels ordered online.

With 21 processing plants, 485 letter carrier depots, more than 6,200 retail post offices, and a fleet comprising more than 13,000 trucks, we are able to move more than a million parcels in a day. We did just that 16 times last holiday season. One million parcels. In one day.

And while it’s true that we could just pick up the boxes from one place and drop them off at another, we recognized that we had the opportunity to do much more.

This was a vision embraced by our President and CEO, Deepak Chopra. It wasn’t long after he came aboard in 2011 that Canada Post pivoted. We weren’t going to be just a delivery service, but a champion of e-commerce.

 

Talking shop: President and CEO Deepak Chopra (left) and Rod Hart, General Manager of Parcels and E-commerce Market Development, discuss the future of parcels and online retail at Canada Post’s head office in Ottawa.

Talking shop: President and CEO Deepak Chopra (left) and Rod Hart, General Manager of Parcels and E-commerce Market Development, discuss the future of parcels and online retail at Canada Post’s head office in Ottawa.

 

Champions of e-commerce

Here’s a few things that we have done since the arrival of Mr. Chopra:

We have automated our equipment so it can stay ahead of the growing demand, and we’ve outfitted it with technology that allows every parcel to be tracked, because Canadians, we have learned, love to track their parcels. They did it more than 425 million times in 2015.

We have launched a slew of services to help businesses provide shoppers with a better online experience. Our FlexDelivery service allows shoppers to route their parcels to a post office of their choice, while Delivered Tonight gives shoppers in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, a same day delivery option for select retailers.

We have integrated with technology platforms so that shoppers have access to the information they want at the online checkout, such as delivery dates and shipping rates. This is the kind of data that helps convince people to complete an online purchase instead of abandoning their cart.

We designed a suite of easy options that allows shoppers to make returns through the mail – the promise of hassle-free returns has become a must for any store that wants repeat online traffic.

We have been installing secure parcel lockers in condos and apartment lobbies, and launching new retail post offices with customer conveniences like drive-thru parcel pick-up.

This September, we will host the fifth annual Canada Post E-commerce Innovation Awards that recognize and reward the country’s leading online retailers, and that brings the retail community together so they can exchange ideas and broaden their networks.

We have also been investing in research that helps us and businesses learn how to best meet and exceed the expectations of Canada’s consumers, like our recent white paper that offers the latest insights on shipping pricing.

And this list will grow.

Our shared future

Parcels is a fiercely competitive market. But right now, we are doing what it takes to be number 1. Our parcel volumes have outpaced the growth in the overall e-commerce market. We did this by becoming an essential part of our customers’ business.

Mr. Chopra said it best at our recent Annual Public Meeting: “We are transforming our business by helping other businesses transform themselves.” We thrive when our customers thrive.

Looking ahead, as online shopping continues to redefine the retail landscape, Canada Post will be looking for, testing out and launching creative ways to support businesses and serve Canadians. New products, new services, new research findings… we’re fully invested in this shared future.

Not many corporations our age are still around. So it’s pretty remarkable that today we’re not simply hoping to survive the times, we are working hard to help change them – and to help others do the same.

It’s an opportunity and a challenge that we look forward to seizing.

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