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insanity level: clockwork orange and up

Posted under Miscellanea at .
Tags:couriers, UK, economics

It’s getting past the point. Really. For quite a while it’s been cheaper, often, to buy things from Germany or the Netherlands, even France, and sometimes Spain, than from most businesses in the South of Scotland or England; and why? Because of the increasingly insane deregulated UK postage and courier industry. (Don’t you loathe it when services get called industries to make them sound like they’re real jobs?)

It’s also been increasingly an issue that eBay in particular now allows sellers to easily exclude areas without thinking about why — which almost always means everywhere North of Perth, West of ooooh Alexandria maybe, sometimes Galloway or Dundee but not Aberdeen, sometimes Paisley but not Greenock; and always means anywhere you need to get on a ferry, a plane, or cross a saltwater bridge to get to.

You kind of expect this from English sellers; and yes I know it includes English Islands too — Isle of Wight notably. But that’s what I mean — England gives the impression of being so hugely divided you expect them to behave in an exclusionary manner towards each other.

But this time, I looked for one specific product on eBay, and it’s a seller, in fact multiple sellers apparently (but I have reservations) in GLASGOW who a) won’t post to the Highlands and Islands, or any offshore (whose shore?) part of the UK or associated territories — but, b) will post to the rest of the world, including specifically, Iceland.

deliveries screenshot-1
deliveries screenshot-2

(And I just realised - excludes Northern Ireland but includes Éire. Oh my head. Perilous stuff. And of course, Denmark includes the Faeroes . . . )

I might just mention at this point that I live under the flight path from either Abbotsinch or Prestwick to Iceland. And little things like this particular product come in the post along with all the junk mail, and can get lost under it if you’re not careful. Even when they originally go to an expensive courier.

And I should also mention that this time there’s ONE seller selling this product in England who will send it to me without qualm. And several in Hong Kong and the PR of China. Unusually, it’s not for sale from Germany. Yay England. You have one remaining realistic business. I will buy it fast lest they succumb next week.

The reasons for all this vary but are generally insane — like the first time I really ran into it, when a certain major building products retailer wouldn’t send me a 50g roll of 15% lead solder, because lead is a hazardous substance and couriers won’t (apparently) deliver hazardous substances in the Highlands & Islands. They do deliver 59kg rolls of roofing lead . . . so I suppose that’s not hazardous (I just nearly put my back out carrying it). It’s become too difficult for people to work out for themselves whether any of their stock is hazardous or what it means — they just take it that sea travel and the Highland Line are hazardous and that’s good enough.

Part of the reason is that people trust databases, or are told to. But the underlying reason for the recent growth of the problem is that the couriers have cherry-picked what were the most profitable routes, and compete on them to the point where they’re no longer profitable, so they charge as much as they can get away with where there’s less competition, irrespective of things like comparative costs. And anywhere there’s a threat of having to read regulations. (Not that they actually do read them; they just apply blanket rules to whole zones and charge triple the item value.)

Which raises the question, is the time spent thinking actually less problematic than the loss of business to Germany and China (from where the UK is a single courier rate, hence cheaper)? It might just be . . . if you don’t actually have to know what your stock is anyway . . . The problem is, it used to be cheaper still for businesses and private sellers to not have to waste time on the destination or choice of courier, when we had one national rate for most things.

Can anything be done to reverse the trend? You might think, not as long as England votes Tory and Scotland votes for the Union. But I don’t expect it’s that simple. The trend is being changed — one day we will just buy everything from China, because delivery is often even cheaper than from Germany, and, even with import charges, they already come in cheaper on product sometimes. (Which, if the Anti-European camp have their way, will be a much more significant trend than now.) And the UK courier industry and the post office (looks like I’m out of the habit of capitalising post office since privatisation) will be owned and run from Shenzen, and probably be better for it.

Or we could try to rebuild a sensible mixed economy; or just make everything ourselves on 3d-printers; or we’ll be extinct and the poor non-oxygen-dependent robots will have to work it out for themselves while they wait for the next supposedly intelligent species to evolve. I’d say my money’s on the Mantis Shrimps but actually my money’s mostly gone to the couriers recently, so I’ll need to wait for the Chinese takeover. Come on Shenzen; you can do it.

I must admit I don’t know where Shenzen is. Perhaps no-one in Shenzen has any clearer idea of the difference between Shetland and the Scillies; but then, nor do most mainland UK businesses South of Perth. But ignorance might be a strength, or at least accepting the difficulty of achieving universal knowledge of geography and transportation systems: Keep it simple. One global delivery charge would cut admin costs way down.

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