As the UK’s second largest private postal company, Whistl handles around 4bn items of addressed mail every year, which is over 26% of the total volume of UK mail items, making it the UK’s largest DSA operator.
It has seven dedicated hubs totaling around 600,000 sqft, 21 sortation machines, 75 ecommerce processing stations, over 6,000 customers, and in 2014, its network of 111 HGVs and 105 vans covered more than 11million miles. Among its retail clients are the White Company and M and M Direct.
Whistl also process in the region of 70m packets and parcels per year, and expects that number to exceed 90m by the end of next year. This part of its business is clearly earmarked for growth, as it makes further inroads into the ecommerce delivery sector.
Formerly known as TNT Post UK, earlier this year Whistl was the subject of a management buy-out, which has left former owner PostNL holding a minority stake (17.5%).
Service comes first
From its earliest days, Whistl has been a business focused on the first mile; it collects, it processes, it sorts. But, says Christine Key, managing director of Whistl Packets & Parcels, many Whistl customers had started to ask for more.
“Everyone says their customers are at the heart of what they do,” she tells me. “We’ve come to understand that our customers want more from us – they want us to take on more responsibility, to manage more services. The first mile, that front end of the operation, is where our strengths lie and our customers appreciate that. But they wanted the opportunity to send Tracked and Untracked packets and parcels with the same kind of expertise and service run through their whole delivery experience.”
This was the driving force behind Whistl’s decision to deliver a ‘one provider, many solutions’ packets and parcels service.
“We can service anyone, but a typical customer is a medium-sized shipper,” Key explains, as she describes how Whistl has deepened its offering. “You might not be sending millions of parcels, but you have the same range of requirements as larger shippers – you might want some parcels tracked, some untracked, and you might also have some international needs. But because you don’t have the very large volumes it’s likely you aren’t able to take advantage of the existing services out there in the market.”
Whistl’s response has been to forge alliances with carrier and technology partners to offer its customers choice, but taking away the hassle of dealing with multiple suppliers. Mail, parcels and packets come in as normal, but now Whistl has a network of delivery partners to take care of the final mile and a carrier management system to support the integration between the customer and the entire delivery network.
Rather than just operating at the starting point of collecting and sorting, Whistl now functions as a delivery consolidation business, Key explains. “Customers want the whole service offering with a single interface, collection, invoice through one relationship. Whistl are uniquely placed to provide access to the full market to the benefit of the customer and carrier networks.”
“Being able to expertly direct volumes around to make the most of carrier availability is something we think keeps the focus very much on service. There’s a leap of faith required to really put the customer first and focus on service, that’s the winning formula.”
Capacity vs constraint
There’s a widely acknowledged paradox at the heart of ecommerce. On one side there’s an almost limitless capacity for online shopping, but a very finite capacity to make deliveries on the other. Technology makes it easier for retailers to track and target customers. It also makes it easy to place an order, sometimes with just one click, from any device. Yet there’s a fixed number of carriers, vehicles, and warehouses to handle those purchased items.
Whistl believes that rather than try to turn back the tide, the best way to cope with these constraints is to work with them as effectively as possible.
“Price pressure aggravates the capacity issues. By aggregating, we can offer customers a wider range and help carriers maximise the value of their operation,” Key says. “Carriers can service the items that fit their network without having to take all of a customer’s items. These are fed into the most appropriate network.”
“The carriers we work with aren’t being selected on price. It’s the service that matters above all else. If a particular carrier isn’t right for a particular job it can quickly and easily be given to someone else. That’s not to say that carrier isn’t any good, but they may have constraints on capacity, item dimension or service. Maybe a retailer they work with has had a sudden surge in demand, for example. We’re in the perfect position to see, and evaluate, all of that.”
By acting as an aggregator, Whistl has also found it can connect carriers and retailers that otherwise would not have done business together. “For some carriers, doing business with a smaller customer can be problematic. But we’re taking away the headache by consolidating shipments,” Key says.
It’s not just mail, packets and parcels that Whistl collects and processes – it is data, too. From order management through to returns, the company wants to understand every aspect of every challenge facing each of its clients. It sees this as the best way to develop and deliver new services.
“There needs to be more emphasis on service and a move away from competing on price. Delivering the best experience has to be the priority.”
This feature was taken from EDM04, the fourth print edition of eDelivery Magazine. Please click here to subscribe and receive your own copy.