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SHIPPING - SERVICES OFFERED VIA INTERNET GROW BUT PERSONAL CONTACT WILL NEVER DISAPPEAR

Express couriers go on-line

EXPRESS delivery is now part of an array of services available via the Internet.
In Slovakia, a majority of customers still prefer to order a shipment over the phone, but courier firms are expressing confidence that the share of Slovak customers who use on-line delivery services will soon reach the numbers seen in Western countries.

On-line orders save time for both couriers and customers.
photo: Courtesy of SPS

EXPRESS delivery is now part of an array of services available via the Internet.

In Slovakia, a majority of customers still prefer to order a shipment over the phone, but courier firms are expressing confidence that the share of Slovak customers who use on-line delivery services will soon reach the numbers seen in Western countries.

The number of users depends on the level of information technologies in each country, said Ivana Kováčiková, marketing coordinator of TNT Express Worldwide. This is why, on average, each third TNT customer in Western Europe uses on-line express delivery, while it is only each fifth customer in Slovakia.

"This difference between Western countries and Slovakia is getting smaller and smaller. The fact that the number of Slovak TNT [on-line] customers increased by 133 percent year-on-year in 2005 proves that," Kováčiková told The Slovak Spectator.

Juraj Siklenka, a sales department supervisor for the Slovak Parcel Services (SPS), which is the authorised service contractor for UPS in Slovakia, agrees that on-line services are a growing trend, though ordering by phone still prevails by far.

"The number of UPS customers ordering services on-line is much higher in developed Western countries due to the wider range of services and more technologically saavy customers," Siklenka said.

FedEx BTS Slovakia gets only 5 percent of its orders via the Internet, said the company's business development manager, Nikita Čebotarev.

DHL Express Slovakia reports 1 percent of its customers order on-line, 20 percent use e-commerce applications (electronic solutions for simplifying distribution processes) and 79 percent still prefer the phone.

"There is not a large difference between the number of DHL customers who use e-commerce and classical methods in Slovakia and Western countries. The reason is that DHL launches all its e-commerce services at almost the same time worldwide," said Kamila Mráziková, marketing manager of DHL Express Slovakia.


What a customer can get on-line


SPS offers on-line customers a range of services, including calculation of a parcel's expected delivery time, on-line orders for picking up a shipment, tracking a package's progress from pick up to delivery, and personalized messages containing any important information concerning the shipment.

"Tracking is for sure the most used on-line service," Siklenka of SPS said. SPS's regular customers use the company's on-line services the most.

Siklenka also pointed out that some additional software applications can be made available to customers who wish to process shipment documentation.

A customer can use FedEx BTS Slovakia's website to order a pick up and to track shipments. It is also possible to download needed documents and communicate instructions or requests. FedEx offers a discount of Sk100 (€2.60) on each shipment ordered via Internet.

According to Čebotarev, FedEx's future plans include opening its database to customers: "[Customers] will be able to access our database and get their own data about deliveries and download them for personal use."

In general, all TNT Express Worldwide electronic solutions enable a client to create a shipment, prepare and print needed documentation, including invoices, calculate a specific price for delivery, order a courier and track a shipment.

However, it is not possible to use on-line services for shipments that require an individually tailored solution, such as goods that are large, heavy, time sensitive, or dangerous.

TNT is also testing a system of e-invoicing, which it intends to implement in the near future.

TNT offers its on-line services only to registered clients who are familiar with the conditions. This is a means of proving customer identification and preventing corporate identity theft over the Internet.

DHL Express Slovakia offers several on-line service applications: on-line orders, tracking, price and time of the delivery, contact forms, and e-commerce applications.

Mráziková added: "DHL customers use the tracking, contact forms, and on-line orders the most."

DHL records the largest interest in on-line services for shipments of smaller sizes and deliveries from Slovakia to the European Union. "Deliveries of large sizes are agreed on and completed through totally different channels than the Internet," Mráziková said.


On-line service growth expected


All express delivery companies agree that more and more clients will begin to use on-line services in Slovakia. Such services offer a range of advantages that clients will become more familiar with.

"Savings in time, costs (for the phone calls), and the possibility to convey complex information into the system of orders are definitely the advantages," Siklenka of SPS pointed out.

Mráziková of DHL added that on-line solutions save a delivery firm's time, as well, because it allows the firm to work out a timetable for picking up shipments in advance. "A courier is thus able to arrive at a customer sooner. He does not have to spend time filling in forms because the customer prepared the necessary documentation via e-commerce solutions."

The processing time is also much shorter for on-line applications, Kováčiková of TNT explained. A client can find out a price, create delivery documentation, and order a courier in just one step.

Čebotarev of FedEx thinks that the large regular customers sending several shipments a day will gradually switch to automated solutions. However, human contact will probably never totally disappear from the communications between a delivery firm and a customer.

"It is still true that, when it comes to shipments that require an individually tailored solution, customers will prefer to check the options and conditions of delivery in person."

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