31.03.2014 – The recent Bali agreement’s promise of increased global trade is pushing postal services to listen closely to customers and work more effectively with all stakeholders to meet the expectations of consumers and merchants wanting to ride the e-commerce wave.
Listen to the customer, offer integrated postal solutions and provide simple and reliable customs and delivery procedures, said several participants at a forum on global e-commerce organized on 26-27 March 2014 by the Universal Postal Union, the United Nations specialized agency for postal services.
More than 250 delegates from the United Nations family, including the World Customs Organization, the International Telecommunications Union and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, as well as leading e-tailers, e-commerce associations and Posts provided insight into the challenges of cross-border e-commerce, still in its infancy compared to domestic e-commerce.
And the message was clear: to catch the wave, stakeholders must get in the game early and adopt a coordinated approach. “E-commerce needs networks that are efficient, intelligent and secure, and that requires the cooperation of all stakeholders,” said UPU Director General Bishar A. Hussein.
Recognizing the organization’s goal to promote trade development by leveraging the global reach of Posts and their proven logistics capabilities, the head of the UPU called the global postal network “the network of networks”.
But Hussein also recognized the challenges associated with the cross-border exchange of goods and the importance of reducing trade and operational barriers. “We need to provide quality service, speed, trust, security and reliability,” he said, as he invited the heads of the customs, telecommunication and trade organizations to work more closely with postal services to improve connectivity in developing countries, create standards for mobile payments and reduce customs barriers.
“E-commerce is a game-changer,” said World Customs Organization Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya. “It means a huge increase in the delivery of small parcels, which pose both challenges and opportunities for postal services and customs. Our mission is to facilitate the flow of goods, while protecting citizens from hazardous and illicit goods,” he added. “This is why we are working with the UPU and using ICTs to get more data and do risk management.”
According to UPU statistics, the Posts of its 192 member countries said they processed 61 million international parcels in 2012, that’s 5 per cent more than the previous year. And parcels and logistics contributed 17 per cent of all Posts’ revenues in 2012, compared to 9 per cent in 2002.
Online business-to-consumer sales are expected to hit 2 trillion USD by 2020, according to the latest estimates. Initial UPU data tracking global postal exchanges indicates that cross-border e-commerce shows promising growth along corridors in North and South America, Europe and Asia. But stakeholders must work to help regions like Africa and the Arab countries hop on the economic bandwagon.
And there is potential. The forum heard of cases like Nigeria, which is experiencing dramatic economic growth and the rise of a middle class increasingly wanting to buy goods, said Sim Shagaya, CEO of Konga.com, a popular online marketplace in Nigeria. “Africa’s principal retail experience will be e-commerce,” said Shagaya, who added his company will rely on the Nigerian postal service to deliver online purchases in rural areas.
While the dialogue is ongoing at the international level, it needs to be established at the regional and national levels, too, said UPU Deputy Director General Clivaz. “We need to provide promised support to help small and medium-size enterprises to grow under a framework that promotes simple and reliable rules and procedures.”
The UPU already works closely with the World Customs Organization. This has led to a push for Posts to increasingly share advance data about incoming international parcels to speed up customs processing and delivery.
The UPU and the International Telecommunication Union also committed to developing international standards for mobile payments and connectivity issues to increase developing and least developed countries’ capacity to participate in global e-commerce.
Anticipating the rise of e-commerce and trade and the need for simplified and integrated postal solutions, the UPU, at its 2012 Congress in Doha, created groups under its Postal Operations Council to deal with e-services and e-commerce and find solutions to main challenges facing postal operators and other stakeholders. The creation of an international merchandise return solution is in the works, among other activities.