South Africans may soon have to ensure the weight of their fast food order exceeds 1kg if they want it to be delivered by Uber Eats or Mr D Food.
This could be one of the consequences of a court battle between the South African Post Office and private couriers regarding the delivery of parcels which weigh 1kg and less.
It comes after a 2019 ruling from ICASA’s Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC) against PostNet, which found that its courier services should not be allowed to deliver such parcels.
The Post Office had lodged a complaint with ICASA in which it maintained it was the only licensed provider of reserved postal services in South Africa and was therefore the one entity allowed to deliver packages which weighed 1kg and less.
This is set out in the Postal Services Act 124 of 1998, which stated that only a licenced postal services operator may render services defined as reserved postal services.
The reserved postal services include all letters, postcards, printed matter, small parcels, and other postal articles up to and including 1kg in weight.
The CCC’s ruling came just before South Africa entered COVID-19 lockdown, a time during which many relied on couriers to get food and other items delivered to their homes.
Fortunately, PostNet secured an interdict which has allowed it and other courier companies to continue delivering sub-1kg packages until the full matter is heard by a full bench of the Gauteng High court.
The South African Express Parcel Application (SAEPA), which represents couriers including DHL, FedEx, UPS, CourierIT, DSV, Globeflight, and RAM, joined PostNet as co-applicant in the case.
SAEPA CEO Garry Marshall has told MyBroadband that the impact would be disastrous if the court ruled in the Post Office’s favour.
“The sales loss is bad enough – the impact will be huge, particularly on the international players,” Marshall said.
It would not only be to the detriment of courier companies, but also to their customers and the booming ecommerce industry in general.
“It’s probably more dire because it disrupts your entire collection process, and it’s completely impractical,” he added.
Marshall explained that from a practical perspective, customers would have to weigh each parcel to see if they would need to use the Post Office or a courier.
In addition, couriers would have to carry scales in their vehicles to see whether a package weighed less than 1kg and could be loaded for a delivery.
Ecommerce fulfilment operations would also have to adapt to separate packages by weight.
“For the Post Office you are going to have to select the kind of services that you want – Is it a speed service, is it normal mail, and what is the address and how does it get delivered.”
“All around it is impractical, it will have a dramatic impact on courier companies – both their revenues as well as their processes,” Marshall said.
Marshall provided an example of how the car servicing industry would be impacted if it had to use the Post Office instead of couriers.
Typically, when a customer booked a service, the dealer would order a spare package which might be made up of all sorts of components including spark plugs, wiper blades, and the like.
“The mechanic doing the service might realise there is a problem and he needs to order a part that wasn’t anticipated in the spare package,” Marshall explained.
In such a situation, he would then have to request the part from Toyota, which would have to go the Post Office to send the parcel.
Fast food courier services like UberEats and Mr D Food and their customers would also be impacted as the regulation made no exemption for food.
“You better make sure that you order a pizza over 1kg,” Marshall stated. “Don’t order your KFC for home delivery, because if it’s under a kilogram, it can’t be done.”
For reference, a single McDonald’s Big Mac burger weighs 215g.
“These are the completely ridiculous scenarios people are going to be faced with,” he added.
Marshall said that since the legislation did not mention couriers by name, but referred to anyone that conveyed items, large transport companies could also be affected.
A transporter carrying tonnes of cargo made up of individual packages weighing less than 1kg each would not be allowed to do so.
For example, a shipment of shoe boxes with a weight of less than 1kg each would have to go through the Post Office.
The Post Office has claimed that courier companies have stolen their business, an allegation which Marshall refuted.
“We believe we are complementary to them, we don’t believe we compete with them as we are not in the business of carrying traditional mail,” Marshall said.
He brushed off the Post Office’s claims that its Speed Services couriers could carry out all sub-1kg deliveries in the country.
He emphasised that courier companies were not working against the Post Office.
“There is definitely a place in our society for a reliable post office, and particularly for people that can’t afford courier services,”
While Marshall acknowledged that the Post Office’s traditional postal service had become redundant, this had nothing to do with couriers taking its business.
“The fact that email has climbed in and destroyed the document business is not a courier issue,” he said.
“They never changed anything, they never did anything differently to match the change of space.”
By contrast, other national postal services – like Germany’s – had evolved to provide world-class courier services.
DHL – one of the biggest players in the world – is owned by the German Post Office.
“They recognised that courier services and mail services are not the same. You need completely different infrastructure,” Marshall said.
“We need a Post Office that works, and we can work hand in hand with them.”
Marshall said no date has yet been set for the case to be heard by the High Court.
The SA Post Office told MyBroadband that the law which reserved parcels below 1kg to it postal services was promulgated for it to make good on its its Universal Service Obligation.
Unlike private couriers, the Post Office is not allowed to charge according to the distance that items are transported, which means that private carriers can deliver items over profitable short-distance routes.
“This compels the Post Office to service the non-profitable routes. A ruling in favour of the Post Office would lead to less skewed competition,” the company said.