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Detection and prevention via education is the most effective way to prevent the transport of dangerous goods or lithium batteries via e-commerce channels, according to the International Post Corporation (IPC).
Postal services handle about 70% of the final mile of e-commerce deliveries, giving them a strong position from which to add layers of security.
Liam O’ Sullivan, director operations for IPC, told delegates at the WCS in Dallas last week: “There are three elements to improving safety and security. Detection, education of sellers and education of frontline staff in post offices.
“Returns is the smaller element, but the main risk is from the sellers themselves.
“One of the challenges is different restrictions in different areas, but there is rigid screening. That can be disruptive, because it can delay a whole shipment, as you have to deconstruct it all to find the problem.”
Mr O’Sullivan added that ultimately the platforms should be able to inform both buyers and sellers on a regional basis.
“Regulatory information should show to the consumer [with particular country information]. Ideally, the consumers shouldn’t even see items that they can’t buy in their own country. Stopping goods at source is best.”
Lucas Kuehner, head of air freight at Panalpina, added: “It is a challenge to get sellers to understand the rules.
“We won’t ship just anything, especially out of China and Hong Kong. Even small shipments potentially have a battery inside. Digitisation is desperately needed to help prevent this. We don’t want to stop this trade… just the bad stuff.”
Increasing volumes could make this harder. Mr O’Sullivan added that postal organisations had upped their game as the e-commerce market had matured.
“Once postal services got over the initial shock [of e-commerce] five years ago, planning has got much better.
“November is a higher peak than December, and now January is big because of the massive logistical challenge for ecommerce providers, so they are trying to spread the load – which is also better for carriers.”
But he added that carriers should expect to see continuously rising volumes.
“By 2020, we are expecting to see the current cross-border flow triple. The challenge will be the middle bottleneck, from the supplier to the post.
“There are also big drives towards e-commerce in Africa. We will see new lanes opening up, and new demand. Can business provide that link? That’s where the challenge is going to be.”
Mr Kuehner said he didn’t think the industry was currently ready for far greater volumes.
“We need more handlers – and for them to be adequately paid,” he said, in a slight dig at the airlines. “There are huge challenges coming. Huge infrastructure investment is needed, and that’s where forwarders come in. Let’s keep the integrators where they are, and eat some of their lunch.”
E-commerce packages were best suited to postal operators, rather than the integrators, added Mr O’Sullivan.
“Express operators are configured for larger packages. Postal operators are well suited to this. It’s like gas – the route is traveling anyway, irrespective of the volumes.”
This route, however, has also attracted bad elements. The fast and simple e-commerce delivery channel has lured “many criminal organisations”, noted World Customs Organisation director of compliance Ana Hinojosa.
“They are capitalising on e-commerce systems and sending drugs, weapons, counterfeit products, animal parts and cultural relics. They like the sheer volumes and fast networks of e-commerce.”