Royal Mail Collection Services screenshotThis online service delivery business is more complicated than it looks.

The postman came. I was out. He left a card  to tell me that there was something which needed to be signed for. That means a trip to the sorting office on Saturday to collect it. Or I can go online to arrange for it to be redelivered. Much more straightforward to do that. Surely.

Perhaps not. From the landing page on the Royal Mail website, it takes eight further screens to arrange this apparently simple service.  But worse is still to come.  Actually, the postman brought two things not one. On the card through the letterbox, there is a box which shows the number of items. In the screenshot (click to see a larger version), which otherwise mimics the layout of the card, that box is missing.  And although there was room for the postman to stick two reference numbers on the bottom of the card, there is room to enter only one on the screen.

Happily the FAQ are there to show the way:

What do I do if there is more than one item indicated on the ‘Something for you’ card for redelivery?

Less happily, the answer is brisk, clear, but unwelcome:

You need to process one redelivery request per item.

The second time round this should be easier. On the final screen (though not, curiously, the first), there is a prompt to register an account and log on. As it happens, I have an account already, so once logged on, the second pass through the process will doubtless be much more straightforward. Or not: precisely two fields are now pre-populated, 7½ screens still to go in order to change one digit (and one check digit).

It’s not that Royal Mail doesn’t care. Once through the marathon, I was asked to take part in a feedback survey. In the heat of the moment I may have overdone the opprobrium, though once I discovered that there was a compulsory question requiring me to rate parts of the site I had not visited, my sense of guilt diminished sharply.

Any fool can carp, of course. Criticism is cheap. I don’t know why this service is quite as clunky as it is, though I can make a few guesses. The first is that organisationally, Royal Mail is a poorly integrated federation, and that they have not been able to get their web architecture to transcend those divisions. I have some sympathy with that (people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones…), but it’s really not an adequate excuse.

A second is that their transactions, and this transaction in particular, are a thin veneer sitting on top of old and ugly processes. Again, some sympathy: a clunky service may well be better than no service at all, but even imagining the string and cocoa tins connecting this front end to the sorting office, it could so easily be better than this.

And a third possible reason is an inappropriate security model. All they really need is enough information to identify the address and items waiting for delivery associated with it. But if delivery is still to the original address, there is nothing which makes a second delivery attempt more vulnerable to interception than the first (curiously, when they succeed in delivering, they understand they are validating to an address, but when collecting from a sorting office, they attempt to validate to a person).

Only one of those reasons is about the visible user experience, but in combination they are deadly, and demonstrate yet again that having a better website is necessary, but far from sufficient, for having a better website.

So perhaps next time, I will go back to queuing at the sorting office, shifting myself not the channel.

Update: Paul Clarke has a more radical proposal. Rather than trying to fix the notification problem, he tackles the root cause which is a delivery model based on an assumption that people are at home when deliveries happen.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to comment on our online redelivery service. I’m sorry to hear that using it hasn’t been a great experience for you. We are in the process of migrating our website to a new platform, and are taking the opportunity to make some improvements, e.g. up-front login to save time in completing this application. I’ll be sharing your blog with my comments, with a view to making further improvements in future. Thanks again.

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