Natural monopoly in package delivery

I’ve never got a call from a postman asking for the route to my home. I’m assuming none of you have, either. In fact, it is extremely unlikely that anyone even writes the recipient’s phone numbers on any letter or package that is being sent by ordinary post. It is assumed that the address uniquely identifies your house and the postman knows how to get there.

However, every time I get a courier or any other package delivered I’m faced with a constant barrage of calls from the delivery person. And this after living in Jayanagar, which apart from a few dead ends and diagonal roads is like Manhattan in that mains and crosses can be easily used to identify approximate locations of addresses beyond which door numbers uniquely identify houses. The problem is that most delivery persons of “private” courier companies have as their domains areas much larger than Jayanagar, because of which they have little domain knowledge of Jayanagar.

The reason why delivery persons of “private” courier companies have large domain areas is the number of packages that these companies deliver – the market is generally quite fragmented and so the number of packages that a single company has to deliver in a particular area is low, because of which the area assigned to each delivery person is large, because of which the delivery person is unable to “figure out” his complete area, which makes the entire delivery process inefficient.

Package delivery can hence be considered to be a “natural monopoly“, in that it is more efficient for one provider to deliver packages in a particular area than for several providers to deliver in the same area. A single provider delivering packages in an area can have delivery persons who are knowledgeable about the area and can hence deliver with low transaction cost.

Hence there is scope for setting up a company that specialises in last mile delivery of packages, with delivery persons with intimate knowledge of small areas delivering packages in that area. This company can then take over the responsibility for delivery in that area from a large number of courier companies, e-commece companies which have their own logistics, etc. But then that will completely defeat the purpose of a “courier service”!

If only India Post increases reliability to a level where e-commerce players start using it rather than their own delivery services.

(Companies such as Uber, which sends you a different cab each time you call for one and thus has no way to exploit this “natural monopoly”, solve the problem by providing their drivers with GPS and turn by turn navigation. Perhaps courier companies can learn from this?)

The trigger for this post was this Amazon delivery person who kept calling me every two minutes asking me to provide him directions to my house. As if I don’t have any better job. I told him that figuring out addresses is a part of his job and he can’t outsource it to me. I’m not at home so I don’t know if he’s even delivered the package. 

4 thoughts on “Natural monopoly in package delivery”

  1. Excellent idea, and I would like to add that a local Cable TV guy/company is BEST suited for this diversification

  2. Absolutely agree. The past year, I decided to do almost all of my shopping online and while that saved me the waiting time at the billing counter, I was frustrated with the # of calls I received for the location. Inspite of using the same provider for grocery services (I bought atleast twice a month from them), everytime the driver changed and the new person had to call me every few minutes to figure out where the apartment is. So much for better customer service ! Once, a driver had the audacity to tell me that he can’t deliver home and asked me to come to a prominent location nearby to collect the goods !!

    1. Speaking of grocery I’ve explained location to BigBasket only once – after that they’ve delivered promptly without calling. And 2 days back after I wrote the post my package wasn’t delivered. Yesterday a different guy came and delivered (he found my place after one call).

      And asking you to collect from a prominent location is idiotic!

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