March 21, 2006

The UK's Royal Mail - what an amazing thing

The US still has mail on saturdays. Canada dropped saturday mail decades ago. In Canada it can take a week for a piece of post mailed from an address in Toronto to reach another address in Toronto. It recently took five weeks for an air mail envelop (light - contained a scarf a cousin had knitted for christmas) to arrive from california to the UK. "Typical" was the only reply.

In the UK, you can order a parcel from Scotland on Monday, and it will be with you in England by tea time on Tuesday.

To a Canadian, such postal service is just this side of miraculous; it's this kind of service that makes internet shopping something equally magical: order something from electronic scales to sneakers at a UK internet shop and it's there the next day - two days at the most - and at a savings from buying "on the high street." And there it is: brought right to your door. For those who are not keen on the hurly burly of heading into stores (the get in and get out types) this kind of shopping service is heaven sent.

And really, in the UK, there is an online store for everything. A colleague was telling me about a place that just sold hassocks. Another, that i wrote about earlier, just does light bulbs.

I thought perhaps this kind of internet service was a global phenom. It isn't.

i wanted to get a pal in the US a gift, so was looking to order something from a US online shop to be delivered to him - in the US: it would take 3-5 days to process the order and then another week for delivery of the goods. A ten day to two week process. The business processing the order was one part of the hold up; speed of the post is another.

Now maybe it's just that the UK has hit the sweet spot between geography and population density, such that it can move mail with such alacrity. After all despite Canada's land mass is three times the size of the US (the UK would likely fit inside the province of Alberta) it has a low population (about 33mil) compared to either the US (295mil) or the UK (60mil). Too few people to form a chain to pass the mail from one end of the country to the other?? And in the US? Just too many places for mail to get to, to be delivered efficiently? Dunno.

There's a lot of problems with services in the UK, as there seem to be in any country. Ask someone about trying to get an NHS dentist in the UK; where the concept of a semi-private room in a hospital is a complete non-starter (wards - just multibed wards here. does canada have wards in hospitals outside of Intensive Care Units?).

But when it comes to the mail, and what an efficient mail service enables for local trade, it seems quite untouched. I don't know what the rest of Europe is like, but compared to North America, the Royal Mail is a wonder.

Posted by mc at March 21, 2006 10:12 AM