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Understanding the true scale of pick up and drop off points

By Andrew Willshear

Citizens Advice: The Consumer Watchdog

Receiving online shopping deliveries to your home is not perfect. With around 40 million deliveries failing to reach their destination at the first attempt, alternative and more innovative delivery options have been developed.

One of these options includes pick up and drop off (PUDO) points. These locations are often found in convenience stores close to people’s homes and places of work, designed to help customers collect their deliveries at the first attempt. But have they been successful?

Citizens Advice has conducted a first-of-its-kind piece of research, mapping customer access to pick up and drop off locations in Britain.

Introduction

In the last decade internet shopping has boomed. Latest figures from May show that we are spending over £1 billion a week online - a 250% increase on the same month in 2010. During a similar period, the number of parcels sent from businesses to customers has increased by 190% and more than 2 billion are now being sent each year.

As more people shop online, retailers and parcel carriers have provided customers with more convenient and innovative options to receive their items. These include delivery to home, to a neighbour or a safe space close to home, click and collect, to pick up and drop off (PUDO) points (such as convenience stores, dedicated parcel shops, lockers, and depots) and even delivery to boot or smart locks.

When we shop online, we often prefer to get our purchases delivered to our house. But despite this being the most popular delivery method, PUDOs can play an important role as people are often not at home. Each year around 40 million deliveries fail to reach their destination at the first attempt. And even when people are at home to receive their orders, Citizens Advice research shows that many still receive a ‘sorry you were out’ slip. This happened for 28% of customers with at least one delivery problem in the last year.

To avoid this problem, people can use PUDOs as their first-choice delivery location - direct delivery to PUDOs could be more efficient, both financially and environmentally. They can also be used to send parcels to friends and family or to return unwanted purchases back to retailers. Between 2011 and 2016 the volume of online shopping returns in the UK increased by nearly 60% to 89 million and is forecast to increase by a further 46% to 130 million by 2021.

Person buying something online

What does PUDO provision look like?

For the first time, Citizens Advice - the statutory consumer watchdog for postal customers - has mapped access to PUDOs across Great Britain by using data from 16 parcel operators. This landmark study includes just under 35,000 points, or over 80% of all PUDOs.

You can find the short report based on our analysis of these locations here and an interactive map here. Overall, our analysis reveals 4 key findings:

There is good PUDO provision in Britain

Our findings show that British customers live on average just over 1km from their nearest 5 PUDOs, whilst 2 in 3 (66%) live within 1 mile of 5 PUDOs served by 5 distinct carriers.

When we shop online, we can rarely choose what carrier we want to deliver our item due to the exclusive relationships between retailers and parcel carriers. This also limits the range of PUDOs we can choose to collect our item from.

In our research we used 5 distinct carriers as a rough measure of reasonable customer access as over half (55%) of the revenue that businesses send to customers can be attributed to the 5 biggest parcel operators.

Average Distance to nearest PUDO and 5 nearest PUDOs across GB

 

Our findings on customers’ proximity to PUDOs and carriers aligns with the findings from our forthcoming research on customer use and experience of PUDOs. Although customers are initially willing to travel 3 miles to collect and return items, when we forced them to make a trade-off and choose between a range of factors in deciding to use a PUDO - such as its opening hours or days open etc. - the most important factor was that it must be no more than 1 mile away. Interestingly, according to our upcoming data, a shorter distance – such as 0.5 miles away - is not a significant factor in people’s decision.

PUDO access varies depending on geography

Despite generally good PUDO provision, access varies considerably across Great Britain. Whilst English customers are just under 1km from their nearest 5 PUDOs, this increases to 1.4km and 1.6km for Welsh and Scottish customers respectively.

There is also a similar pattern for access to a range of PUDOs or carriers. Over 2 in 3 (68%) English customers live within 1 mile of 5 PUDOs served by 5 distinct carriers. This reduces to under 56% of Scottish and 45% of Welsh customers.

Proportion of customers living within 1 mile of 5 PUDOs served by any carrier or 5 PUDOs served by 5 distinct carriers across GB

 

Unsurprisingly our findings show that Londoners have the best access to a range of PUDOs and carriers. For example, nearly all (97%) Londoners have access to 5 PUDOs served by 5 distinct carriers within 1 mile, whereas nearly half (47%) of customers in the South West and over half (55%) in Wales do not.  

Despite London having more PUDOs (just under 5,000 - more than the following 9 biggest cities in Britain combined), it does not have the best access in relation to its population or geographic size. Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leicester, and Edinburgh outperform London for PUDOs per person - whilst on a geographic basis Manchester and Glasgow also outperform London.

PUDOs per 10,000 people and per square kilometre in the 10 biggest cities in GB

The most deprived customers have the best access

Unlike much of our work at Citizens Advice, which shows that the most vulnerable customers are often at a disadvantage in other markets, one of the most surprising findings from our analysis shows that customers living in the most deprived areas of Great Britain have better access to a range of PUDOs and carriers.

For example, in England 9 in 10 (91%) customers living in areas with the highest incidence of deprivation are within 1 mile of 5 PUDOs served by 5 distinct carriers, compared to just half (48%) of those living in areas with the lowest incidence of deprivation.

Proportion of customers in each Index of Multiple Deprivation decile living within 1 mile of 5 PUDOs served by any carrier or 5 PUDOs served by 5 distinct carriers

Our findings also show that younger customers have better access to a range of PUDOs and carriers - 3 in 4 (75%) 18-34 year olds versus just over half (57%) of 65-74 year olds live within 1 mile of 5 PUDOs served by 5 distinct carriers - whilst, encouragingly, there is no difference in access between disabled and non-disabled customers.

Post offices are propping up access in rural areas

Unsurprisingly, urban customers have better access to PUDOs and carriers compared to those living in rural areas. For example, 8 in 10 (79%) urban residents live within 1 mile of 5 PUDOs served by 5 distinct carriers, compared to just 1 in 20 (5%) rural customers.

But despite better overall provision in urban areas, as the first map below shows, many rural areas such as the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Central and West Wales, and South West England have better PUDO provision in proportion to their populations. However, as illustrated in the second map, this is largely dependent on the post office network - highlighting the importance of post offices and Government funding to maintain access to parcels services in rural areas.

PUDOs per 10,000 residents

Non-post office PUDOs per 10,000 residents

So, what next?

The provision of PUDOs only tells one side of the story for customers - but what about their use and experience of PUDOs in the wider context of shopping online? Well, alongside our mapping research we commissioned a representative survey of 4,000 British customers looking precisely at these areas.

Over the coming months we will be analysing the findings from this survey in conjunction with the mapping research to understand what customers need. As part of this we are looking to develop recommendations: this could include providing customers with a greater choice of PUDO locations or carriers when collecting or returning their online purchases, or shared community infrastructure such as libraries in areas with poorer access.

However, these are only some initial ideas, and if you would like to get in touch with us to discuss any thoughts on what we should do next and help us develop constructive recommendations, then please do not hesitate to contact me at andrew.willshear@citizensadvice.org.uk.

Andrew Willshear, Policy Manager, Citizens Advice

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