Australian post office box prices rise again
Standard small PO box price increases for the past 16 years:
|Year||Price||If paid before 31 March|
A Sad Decline of a Great Service
Australia Post puts the prices of its post office boxes up again. In 2014, the cost of a small PO box became $112. In 2009, the price of the same box was $80, so in five years Australia Post increased the cost by 40%. Average yearly inflation rate in Australia during the same 5-year period was about 2.75%, which results in 13.75% inflation for those 5 years. Over the past 10 years, considering that the cost of a small PO box was $55 in 2004, Australia Post increased PO box prices by nearly 104%. Inflation in Australia over the last ten years was around 27%. Which means that Australia Post increased its post office box prices 77% above the inflation rate!
Normally, higher prices are justified by higher running costs, implementation of new expensive technologies or increased cost of maintenance. However, Australian PO boxes haven't changed for decades: they are still exactly the same black boxes with small doors and awkwardly large keys — so, besides the inflation, the running cost and maintenance should not be that different to what it was before. All the new services like email alerts or SMS notifications about the presence/absence of new mail in the box are available at a substantial extra cost ($55 and $89 respectively) on top of the box price, and thus cannot be used as an excuse for the price rise.
Nevertheless, Australia Post is blaming the price-hike on mounting costs related to raw materials, delivery, transport and energy despite the fact that people who rent PO boxes are actually saving Australia Post money by reducing street mail deliveries; futile transportation of parcels back to post offices for later collection by the addressee when street address delivery fails; the cost of subcontractors for door-to-door parcel deliveries; fuel costs; and eliminating complaints about misdelivered letters or parcels that were stolen or damaged by rain, insects or sun when left on the premises. It also helps the Post to maintain a reliable service, because any letter placed in a wrong PO box can be returned immediately by simply pushing it to the back of the box so it pokes out a bit and attracts the attention of the sorting person, rather than being left on the top of the street mail box to be destroyed by rain or blown away by wind (because not every person has enough time or civic consciousness to take the misdelivered letter to the right address or to a post box for a safe return).
Therefore, by deterring PO boxes customers, Australia Post actually increases its costs rather than achieves higher revenue. When questioned about the yearly increase of post office box rental renewals far in excess of the annual Australian inflation rate, Australia's Post reply was:
We understand your concern around our PO Box prices, price rises are never popular. We to ensure that our business is self-sustaining like any other commercial enterprise and this price rise was required. We remain committed to continuously improving our products and services and providing them to our customers at competitive prices.
Committed to continuously improving our products and services? — Did PO Box service improve by 77% during past 10 years? Nope. The boxes look, feel and work in exactly same way as in 2004, 1994 or 1984. So why did the price increase so much?
At completive prices? — By competing with whom?
Price increases might be necessary, but if they far outstrip the annual inflation without any valid reason or explanation, consumers will vote with their feet. No wonder that every March, when PO box rents are due, the red-coloured “Rent Me” signs are plastered all over the vacant boxes. Australia Post seems to be pricing itself out of the market.
Where do the profits go?
According to some sources, LPOs (Licensed Post Offices) — the local post offices and the employees we deal with on everyday basis — do not receive all the profits. Worse still: the payments to Licensees have been failing to keep pace with the imbedded cost of the provision of services. Which may mean that not only the prices are way higher than they should have been, but the extra profits are not actually going to the people who do the hard work. Post offices are basically discouraged by Australia Post management from servicing PO boxes by receiving flat rate fees for delivering parcels.
The delivery process includes scanning each parcel in, placing a card into the PO box if the parcel doesn't fit the box, storing the parcel, serving the customer when they come to collect the parcel, scanning the parcel out, and, if required, obtaining the signature. The sorting must be completed by 9 am every day, and, given the increasing volume of parcels due to the popularity of online shopping, may require additional employees, yet the payment is the same flat amount, regardless of the cost the customers pay for parcel postage and for PO boxes which Australia Post continues to increase without proportional benefit to the Licensees. The so-called fee for delivery to a business point does not account for the number of parcels to be delivered; that is, LPO receive the same payment for delivering one parcel per hundred PO boxes or for delivering five parcels to each of those boxes.
As the result of the increased cost, the number of PO boxes leased at LPO steadily decline. The Licensees are losing their customers and income while Australia Post is increasing and pocketing the fees. In addition, the costs and amount of work LPOs have to do to deliver mail to street address is greater than if the customer would have kept renting a PO box.
One would wonder if this shortsighted mismanagement within Australia Post is deliberate, and the aim is to increase the Post's short-term profits to make it easier to sell the whole system in the future? The very system that belongs to all Australians, is vital the existence of the country, and should be a fair-functioning entity that provides impeccable service. After all, while many types of communication now moved online, the post still has to deliver important paper documents, such as passports. And that's where any failure in delivery may have disastrous consequences.
Speaking of increases, according to Crikey, in 2013, Australia Post workers received a pay rise of 1.5%, while its CEO Ahmed Fahour, already one of Australia's highest-paid executives, received a pay increase of 66%, which brought his salary to an unprecedented $4.8 million a year!
Like you, I am a PO Box renter, and similarly appalled by the unreasonable cost and significant annual price increases. As you point out, the technology has remained unchanged for many decades, so there is clearly no “R&D” to be amortised. Box layouts challenge both those of short stature, and most particularly those unfortunate enough to have one on the bottom rows, who are forced to kneel. As there are “establishment” fees (and additional fees for keys), it is reasonable to presume that the bulk of the “leasing” fees are related to the costs of mail distribution.
I have surveyed my Local PO, which has approximately 700 boxes (a mix of Small, Medium & A4), with all but 2 in use.
In 2014, even with pay-on-time rates the revenue aggregates to just shy of $86 000. I am advised that the time spent distributing the mail items in to these boxes is between 2–2½ person hours per day. At $20 per hour (plus 30% on costs) and for 250 working days per year, the actual cost of servicing the boxes is around $14 650. (This is a generous estimate of labour costs, and which are probably significantly less, especially in high volume facilities where staff performing this function will likely be on lower rates, and with lower on costs.)
This represents at least a 600% differential between cost and revenue!
It is well documented that the volume of physical mail continues to decline significantly, so the labour costs to service PO boxes (even after annual CPI rises) are almost certainly actually reducing. And, as the use of PO Boxes reduces Australia Post's costs for street delivery, there ought to be a rebate factored in to PO Box rental to reflect this.
As a general principle, the cost to the client for a service should not appreciably exceed the actual cost of its provision. In the absence of a plausible explanation of the cost of provision of this service, the sustained annual price increases and their magnitude, this simply amounts to gouging.
Reader's letter, 14 March 2014
This year, Australian Post attempted to create an allusion that something will actually change, that the PObox-renting customers will get a bit more for their money. The PO box renewal notice boasted a colourful promise:
PO Box notifications coming soon. We'll soon provide you with electronic notifications to let you know when you have mail awaiting collection. Simply update or confirm your details and we'll be in touch to let you know how to receive notifications.
It sounded good, but a phone call to AusPost revealed that the notifications will be provided through the Australian Post's MyPOST Digital Mailbox account, which is their online service for receiving and storing the person's bills and important documents, as well as the current AusPost CEO's attempt to look young, hip and IT-ish. The notifications will not be delivered to the customer's mobile phone or e-mail address, as many were lead to think by the renewal notice asking the customers to update their phone number and e-mail address overleaf. If for whatever reason the customer doesn't want to sign up for yet another online myAccount, on top MyGov, MyHealth, MyTax, MySuper..., or doesn't want to trust the important personal documents to Australia Post, or is an older person who is not comfortable using computers — tough! No notifications for them. There was nothing about the need to sign up for the Digital Mailbox in the ad on the renewal, nor overleaf, nor on the details confirmation page, not even on austpost.com.au website. A misleading move, akin another Australia Post offer: to mitigate the impact of the upcoming postage stamp price rise from 70c to $1 that may heavily affect older people who are unable to use online communications and rely on paper letters, AusPost offered freezing the cost of stamps for this category of people. To receive the concession stamps, the person must signup for the online(!) MyPost Concession Account, which requires an e-mail address.
This year AusPost received a lot of criticism for inventing a way to give Australians a slower service for a higher price: the stamp price rose to $1, and, at the same time, the standard letter delivery now takes about 2 days longer than before. One can only hope that the slower speeds will lead to more accurate mail sorting and delivery.
The PO box renewal letter came with the exactly same announcement as last year:
Collection Notifications coming soon. Also, the PO Box application form contains the misleading:
we can send you an email and / or SMS notification when you have an item waiting to be collected.
Though, this year AusPost finally mentioned in its Post Office Box Service Terms and Conditions that, in order to eventually get the notifications, the customers must open a MyPost Digital Mailbox, the online service Australia Post keeps actively pushing after losing its ability to deliver real mail properly and promptly. The so-called email notification will be, in fact, a message sent to the MyPost Digital Mailbox, and the so-called SMS is nothing more than a push notification through the MyPost app, which has to be tied to a MyPost Digital Mailbox and has huge limitations on what phones and mobile systems it works. All in all: useless, unnecessarily complicated, privacy-invading, and not even there yet.
It may be wise not to register for their Digital Mailbox or give AusPost your email address, not only to safeguard your privacy, but also to avoid getting electronic spam in addition to the paper spam they keep shoving into PO boxes despite the customer opting-out of spam on the application form. The clause on the renewal notice
your personal information may be used to provide you with information about our products and services, as well as information from other businesses (including unaddressed mail) directly to your PO Box clearly states: there will be junk mail. To open Australia Post Digital Mailbox, the customer has to have an email address; so why not receive the bills directly to the personal email address, without dragging a dubious third party into it and entrusting that third party with your security, online safety, personal and banking details.
AusPost also suddenly started demanding to have the customer's date of birth in their system, otherwise they
would be unable to provide this service. How they have been able to provide exactly same PO boxes with a more reliable, fast and affordable delivery without excessive privacy intrusion up until now, is a mystery.
We miss the postal service that was once fast in reliable. Perhaps it was luck, but until 2010 our household haven't had a single letter or parcel misdelivered, lost or unexplainably delayed.
Since 2010, numerous parcels and letters have been lost, including a registered express letter with important documents. Sometimes the postal tracking displays totally incorrect information rendering the tracking number useless. Several letters definitely correctly addressed to our PO Box have been returned by AusPost to sender without anyone in the post office knowing why and by whom. Wasn't one of the points of having a PO Box to get a more reliable mail delivery, not less?
Four or five parcels took several months to arrive from overseas, reaching Australia a few days after they were sent and then either vanishing from the tracking record or displaying “in transit” for months. We also had an issue with the postie (or posties, as they change very frequently) dropping letters on the ground in front of our letterbox, or leaving the mail sticking to the street out of our very spacious letterbox. We also frequently have other people's mail put into our box, which we either deliver to the correct address by hand, if it is not too far, or send back. We hope that other people are kind enough to the same with our mail should it be misdelivered to their addresses.
Why is this suddenly happening? If the volume of mail decreased drastically, shouldn't the chance of an error decrease too? Sadly, almost everybody now has at least one story along these lines.
Reader's letter, 27 February 2016
According to AusPost brochure,
there's even more reason to renew your PO Box, as they are promising 24/7 parcel collection. That's if your post office has that service available, as the fine print at the very bottom of the reverse side of the brochure warns. Good idea, if it works and does not require registering somewhere online and handing over yet more personal information.
Other than that, the past year seems to have been pretty uneventful: the stamps are still $1 (wow!), the delivery is slower, the letters are often left sticking out of the street mailbox, the usual PO Box price rise (although, the increment is smaller than in recent years), signing up for a MyPost account is suggested at every opportunity AusPost gets (they must be desperate to get the subscriber numbers up), and the “free notifications” are still only available to those who signed up for MyPost.
MyPost account? No thanks!
You grant to us an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free licence to use, reproduce, modify, adapt and communicate the Data (and all data and information comprised in the Data), and to sublicense third parties to do those things, to enable us to: (a) operate the Website and provide the Services; and (b) perform statistical and other analyses that are relevant to our business purposes.
You acknowledge and agree that ... we make no representations, warranties or guarantees in relation to the integrity of the Data or length of time the Data will be retained by us.
We may transfer personal information to countries outside Australia. Australia Post uses service providers in other countries as follows: Japan, Singapore, United Kingdom, United States of America, France, New Zealand, India and the Philippines.
We shall not be liable to you or to any other person (whether in contract, tort or otherwise) for any loss or damage suffered, or that may be suffered, as a result of any act or omission, whether negligent or otherwise, by or on behalf of Australia Post in relation to your MyPost Account
The aforementioned Data includes such information as your name, address, email, phone number and government-issued forms of identity used for identity checks. AusPost is basically saying that you must agree that they will use your personal information as they see fit; share it with whomever they choose, within Australia and overseas; keep it for as long as they like, even after you closed all accounts with them; and they are not responsible for any consequences or what happens to your identity in the future.
No, thank you AusPost. Do you remember those Rent Me stickers you attach to every vacant PO Box? Yep, the ones that promise privacy? And what do the customers really get? That won't do!
Australia Post now demands email address as mandatory information on the new application for a PO Box (it was optional before). Why? They give no reasonable explanation except for the usual
We will be unable to process your application if you do not provide the information requested. They somehow have been able to process the same application for the same boxes for decades without this information, but now suddenly they can't.
They also appear to be harvesting email addresses from parcels where the sender added the address to the sending details, and immediately emailing some survey. The survey does have an opt-out link, but in either case AusPost gets to validate the address and store it in their database for an unknown period of time and unknown purpose.