How to survive the postal strike

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There have been a few stories in the mainstream press in recent weeks about how the postal strike is harming small businesses, and eBay sellers in particular. While it’s good to get the word out that the strike is on, too much of this is going to hammer into buyers’ heads that internet orders are unreliable, slow and not worth bothering with. Though the strike is undoubtedly very bad news for many of us, it doesn’t have to be a final kick in the teeth as some would paint it. The stoppages, when they’re announced, are likely to be similar to the 2007 action: long weekends and work to rule. We got through it in 2007, and we’ll do it again.

Here are some of our top tips to survive the strike, and please feel free to add your own in the comments. (I’m going to relax my usual vigilance about spammy advertising for this one too – if you’re a courier offering a real alternative to RM small packet and large letter services, we want to hear from you!)

Don’t post on the day before a strike
In the last postal strike, we saw huge backlogs of mail pile up. It’s already happening again, and we have no reason to think it won’t get worse. It seems that when these backlogs are processed, the top of the pile is dealt with first, so that’s where you want your post to be. However tempting it is to “get it in the post before a strike day” so that you can tell your buyers it’s at least on its way – don’t. Post a day or two after the strike and it seems your post will have a much better chance of getting through reasonably quickly.

Actively promote alternative services
In every Royal Mail strike story, there’s a line about “managers are out delivering the Special Deliveries themselves”. Your buyer knows how urgent their item is to them, and they know there’s a strike on (because you’ve told them). Even for a cheap item, don’t assume they’re not willing to pay for Special Delivery. A buyer who’s had a choice should be a little more understanding if they go for a cheaper option and delivery is slower – and offering SD is, in any case, good practice as we get closer to Christmas.

Look at other carriers
We’ve heard of some couriers (DHL for one) offering prices as low as £4 a parcel if you have the volume: it’s cheaper than SD. Parcel2Go (disclaimer: they’re a TameBay advertiser) have a bulk-uploader to import delivery information from eBay, from £6.89 + VAT per parcel. Don’t assume that couriers are not an option for you: the lovely Maria from Seduction Lingerie has spent this afternoon looking at alternatives to RM, and told me “if this new company work out, it will be bye bye Royal Mail!”

Get marketing with it
Even if you’re selling small, cheap items, you can encourage your buyers to bundle up orders to make courier shipping worthwhile. Offer a target price for free P&P even via courier – more people than you’d expect will meet it. Encourage Christmas shoppers to buy early, and as the strike dates won’t be announced for ten days (so say the CWU), a little email marketing encouraging your buyers to purchase this week rather than next, seems in order.

If you don’t normally offer pick up, now could be a time to be a bit more flexible on that.

Communication, communication…
There are still people saying they didn’t know that there’s a postal strike on. You can bet that even tomorrow when it’s been all over the news all day, there will *still* be people who don’t know there’s a strike on. And because their phone bill and some junk mail arrived last week, they won’t believe that the strike affects them anyway. Be proactive. Tell your buyers – before purchase – what your plans are. Your business has a blog, right? (If not, why not?) so talk about what you’re doing to keep things moving. Most people, most of the time, are reasonable – if they have enough information. I think this is one of those times when you can’t over-communicate, so tell ’em what’s going on.

If you have tips of your own you’d like to share with fellow etailers, please leave us a comment!

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