Macau Matters | Going postal

Richard Whitfield

I greatly enjoy reading The Economist each week. I find it very informative and like that it covers political, business, social and technological issues, with a good balance of both regional and international topics. The last few editions have contained articles about postal and parcel delivery services which I would like to address in the Macau context.

I checked with the publisher and understand that The Economist is printed in Hong Kong and mailed out each Friday evening. It never ceases to amaze me that my copy does not arrive in my home mailbox in Coloane until the following Thursday, ie it takes about 6 days to travel from Hong Kong to Macau! There was a period a few years ago where it did not arrive at all for over one month and after inquiries it was revealed that the local postman was simply dumping the mail. By contrast, Taobao, wine merchants and others seem to be able to deliver parcels to my home from different parts of Guangdong Province within a few days of order placement.

Globally, national postal services seem to be facing several problems. Email and, more recently, messaging Apps like WeChat and Messenger are largely supplanting traditional “snail mail”. For example, all my correspondence with my Australian property agent, banks, stockbrokers, friends and family is done by email. Also, US Postal Service revenues are now 35% lower than they were in 2008, and it has not made a profit since 2006.

While national postal services often have a monopoly on letter deliveries, in most places parcel deliveries are open to competition and most of it is done by private companies. Alibaba, through its logistics platform Cainiao, delivers around 70% of Chinese e-commerce parcels, for example. Moreover, many parcel companies are actively experimenting with drone based deliveries to make them even cheaper and more convenient, but most national postal services cannot afford this kind of research.

International shipments by land, sea or air are well known documentation nightmares. For instance, in another life I had to get Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce origination certificates for every 20ft container I moved through Hong Kong, at a cost of HKD500 per certificate plus payment for a courier to pick up the physical document. But even here, startup companies are beginning to standardize and digitize shipping information and documentation to compete with traditional freight-forwarders. They are also starting to provide ad hoc matching services for people with spare container capacity and others with goods they need shipped.

Generally, national postal services are the dinosaurs (losers) in these logistics disruptions – management is too conservative, they do not have the money to do the necessary research, they have entrenched, technology phobic unions and they are often not motivated to make profits. Countries are beginning to deal with these problems. The best solution seems to be privatization, as has been done in Singapore, Italy, Belgium, Austria and elsewhere. This changes management and their motivations and releases them to compete more effectively.

I am sure that Macao Post has all these problems. I am also sure it has the additional problem of being unable to offer competitive employment packages that give it the flexibility to compete. Perhaps the time has come to sell Macao Post and to open the market to more competition. I am sure Alibaba and others would be interested, and I would like to see the local banks, utility companies and others use more electronic statements.

I would also really like to get my copy of The Economist in time for a Sunday read each week. 

Categories Opinion