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Postal services remain relevant despite computer 'invasion'

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 08, 2013    

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WITH the popularity of social media to include technological advances in instant communication like Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, and various other instant messaging services, many people, especially the young, have confessed to not using the services provided by the Postal Corporation of Jamaica, the postal services' umbrella organisation.

Some have even admitted to not seeing the relevance of the existence of post offices and postal agencies.

Simone Brown, 38, is among those not seeing the relevance of the postal services in Jamaica.

"Seriously, why would I need to use the post office? I get all my bills electronically, I can check my bank statements online and no one sends letters anymore," Brown said.

"I have lived in Spanish Town for over two years now and I cannot even tell you where to find the post office. I really have no need for it. Once upon a time places like your insurance company would send you a postcard through the mail, but persons are not even doing that anymore. Now you see something pops up on your computer or phone from yahoo and it's a singing postcard. I really don't use it," she added.

Postmaster General Michael Gentles said that there has in fact been a decrease in letters mailed over the last 10 years, but the other services provided by the organisation continue to do well.

"There has been a gradual decline in letter mail, in keeping with the trend seen across postal administrations worldwide," Gentles said.

"However, our premium products parcels, Express Mail Service, Zip Mail, our international and local expedited mail services, continue to do well as the demand for these products continue to be positive," he told the Jamaica Observer.

As a result, Gentles said that technology is not posing a threat to post offices in Jamaica.

"Technology is not seen as a threat, but rather as an ally, a tool we use to bolster Jamaica Post's quality of delivery and products and services offering to customers," he said.

"Like many other businesses, Jamaica Post, (the trading company of post offices) continues to incorporate technology in its operations. In so doing, Jamaica Post has been able to improve efficiency and expedite the processing and delivery of all mail items. Technology is now being used to offer a wider range of non-postal services at most post offices islandwide. Technology also allows us to move away from being dependent on core mail products," Gentles stated.

In addition, Gentles said that there are plans for the greater use of technology at the counter. This is expected to minimise the time customers spend there. It is projected that this technology will allow for the introduction of new and a wider range of services that will generate increased revenue for Jamaica Post.

In fact, gone are the days when post offices were used only for mail delivery and collection. Today they provide a comprehensive range of services to include the sale of postage stamps, sale of judicial and National Insurance Stamps (NIS), acceptance and delivery of letters and parcels, sale of philatelic products, sale and encashment of postal money orders, acceptance and delivery of registered mail and express mail (EMS), facilitating pre-paid postage, provision of private letter boxes, zip mail, advertising mail, postal order (Jamaican $) and community bulletins.

First class mailing service is also provided. For this, additional services such as certificates of mailing, registered, and restricted delivery can be purchased. For those wishing to insure their mail, the Postal Corporation also offers this.

First-class mail is used for sending letters, postcards, postal cards, greeting cards, personal notes, cheques, and money orders. All first-class mail receive prompt handling and transportation and are generally delivered within two days to locally designated addresses. Delivery by the third day can be expected for remaining outlying areas.

But irrespective of their offerings, another St Catherine resident, Valda Tate, 42, said that she had not gone to the post office in years and doesn't foresee why she would.

"The last time I went there was to collect a package. To be honest, it was quite easy, when compared to Fedex. But that was years ago. Now I do everything online and even if I shop online I still don't use the post office. My bills come online and I haven't received a handwritten letter in over 10 years," Tate said. Most times when I pass a post office, I just usually see the elderly collecting pension. And that's it," she added.

Montego Bay resident Thandeka Mendez, 23, believes that post offices are relevant but not necessarily for the products and services that they offer.

"I like the idea because of its historical context," Mendez said. "But I use it to send Christmas cards to my family in the States. And I still get some of my bills there, like my student's loan and water bill. In fact, I have used the Bill Express there once."

Mendez said that she has an overseas penpal who refuses to communicate via e-mail, but insists on sending letters through the post office, as it has more sentimental value.

Along with its designated services of mail delivery and collection, the Postal Corporation also offers a comprehensive range of third party/agency services aimed at maximising the customer's postal experience.

These include bill payments, document reproduction and facsimile services, gaming products, Internet kiosks, water coupons, Moneygram, Jamaica Urban Transit Corporation Smart Cards, Cool Cards, PATH, newspaper sales, DHL, Automated Banking Machine (JN, BNS), and Jamaica National Small Business loans.

According to the postmaster general, future plans for the Postal Corporation includes transformation of select post offices into fully equipped cyber centres, automating certain aspects of mail processing and providing online track & trace, courier services, money transfers, ticket sales, fulfilment services for e-commerce, e-government services and insurance products.

For Lloyd Williamson, 22, who resides in May Pen, while he does not use the services of the post office there, his parents still rely on it as their mode of communication.

"I use it only when I am filling out forms that require you to put in a post office address," Williamson told the Sunday Observer.

"Maybe it's lazy, I don't really know, but I find it hard to get up and go to the post office when I can just send an e-mail. All my bills are e-mailed to me, so I don't even have to go for that."

But despite not using the services provided himself, Williamson said that it is still relevant, as a number of Jamaicans are still not into the technological aspect of things, and like his parents, still depend solely on the services provided there.

And the postmaster general is confident that Jamaica Post will still be vibrant come 2030 and beyond.

"Jamaica Post will remain relevant," Gentles said. "Doing business in Jamaica will always require the transportation of goods and documents. Jamaica Post will continue to offer services to move goods and other items across the island and overseas. Jamaica Post is continually assessing market trends to ensure its products and services are meeting the needs of the marketplace," Gentles said.

At present there are over 100 post offices throughout the islands, with at least one located in most of the towns.

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