Photo: PostNL press materials

Recent developments show open parcel locker networks gaining momentum across Europe

Quadient is growing its open locker network across Europe, while recent moves by PostNL and DHL also indicate clear momentum behind open parcel locker networks.

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When it comes to parcel lockers in Europe, a number of players have been able to establish dominant positions in their respective countries, whether it be InPost in Poland, DHL/Deutsche Post in Germany, and Correos in Spain. However, recent developments show that open locker networks are increasingly making their mark.

Many of these developments have taken place in recent weeks, with March 2024 representing a significant month for open parcel networks.

On the very first day of the month, we spoke to DHL eCommerce CEO Pablo Ciano, who told trans.iNFO that DHL has no problem opening up its network to other competitors in some countries.

Just days later, DHL announced a joint venture on parcel lockers with Post Italiane. A couple of weeks after that, the company also launched a separate, open parcel locker network for the German market, named ‘OneStopBox’.

Meanwhile, Quadient, which operates dedicated open parcel locker networks in numerous countries, continues to expand its presence. As of February 2024, the company had over 20,000 lockers globally.

Moreover, in recent weeks, Quadient has announced major partnerships with the Royal Mail and UK Pub Chain Stonegate Group. Plans are also afoot for Quadient’s open network in the UK to grow to 3,000 lockers “in the coming years”.

In addition to this, in January of this year, PostNL declared it would be opening its automated parcel lockers to other carriers this month, with GLS Netherlands being the first.

In the official announcement regarding that decision, Barry Husman, Director Retail Benelux at PostNL, explained the motive behind the move – stressing sustainability in particular:

“We believe that an open model offers consumers a smart solution, and also that it is more sustainable and economical than each carrier building its own network. So we continuously work on digital services and continue to innovate in sustainable logistics solutions,” said Husman.

Given Quadient’s evident growth, and the recent moves by DHL and PostNL, on top of the development of other existing open networks, such as Myflexbox in Germany and Austria, and AlzaBox in the Czech Republic, it appears that open networks are set to make their mark in Europe’s out of home delivery market.

Gary Winter, Quadient’s VP of Global Strategic Initiatives, very much believes this to be the case.

When asked by trans.iNFO whether he thought open networks are gaining momentum, Winter replied “definitely”, referring to DHL’s joint venture with Post Italiane as an example, and noting that both parties had said they’d invited other carriers to participate in the network.

According to Winter, “broadly speaking, 40% of the B2C volume sits outside of organisations that already have lockers”. This would suggest that there is ample parcel volume that open networks could tap into. However, it is also apparent that it is easier to set up an open network in some markets than others.

Which markets best lend themselves to open parcel locker networks?

Earlier this month, we asked DHL eCommerce CEO Pablo Ciano what his view was on open networks and where they make sense.

Ciano told trans.iNFO that the number of networks in a particular country is important:

“Too many locker providers and 5, 6 or 7 different locker networks in 1 country will crowd the market too much, and none of them will be efficient enough to utilise their assets. If there are very few networks, that can also lead to a monopoly, and of course a gatekeeper situation that’s not favourable. I think we are more in need of having 1-3 local networks that will maximise capacity, and if those are open to different users or companies, we’ll be open to that. In many countries, we open up our network to other competitors, and we have no problem doing so.”

Meanwhile, in the opinion of Gary Winter, markets where individual players have a truly dominant position are much less fertile ground for growing an open network:

“An example of where an open network is difficult is Spain, where Correos has a very large market share. It only really leaves room for DPD/SEUR to have a network. The other players in that market are so fragmented that they can’t get the justification to build a network of sufficient density to make it function. So a fragmented market is where an open network really has its role, but in a market where there’s a dominant player, it’s extremely difficult to come along and make a case for an open network,” Winter told trans.iNFO.

Where could we see an open parcel locker network next?

Despite InPost enjoying a strong position in Poland, the market there still remains extremely competitive, with the likes of Allegro, Orlen, Poczta Polska, DPD and DHL all boasting parcel locker networks of their own.

Marek Różycki, Managing Partner at Last Mile Experts, has long been of the opinion that some of these players may be better off cooperating on an open network.

Regarding the possibility of such a network coming to Polish shores, Różycki told trans.iNFO that Orlen and Poczta Polska could be the two to start to make it happen:

“Around a year ago a report in the Polish press emerged about plans for Orlen and Poczta Polska to start creating a joint, potentially open network. My personal view is that this really has to happen fast, and that current investment in relatively large but sub- optimal and separate networks by DPD, DHL, Orlen, Allegro and others is counter productive and only maintains InPost’s competitive advantage. I think Poland should be one of the next countries with an open network, which could be a genuine alternative to InPost.”

Moreover, speaking to trans.iNFO at the opening of DHL’s new International Logistics Centre on March 1st, DHL eCommerce CEO Agnieszka Świerszcz did not rule out the possibility of an open network being launched in Poland:

“Of course, I would say that all companies are seeing this trend [open parcel locker networks]. They’re seeing consumers’ preferences – that they want to collect and send parcels via parcel lockers. Our competition also relies on parcel lockers, and it cannot be ruled out that one of these networks will happen and that an agnostic network will begin.”

What could DHL be planning with OneStopBox?

In its press release regarding the launch of OneStopBox, DHL subsidiary Automations-Lösungen GmbH said it would be installing 100 machines in 2024 in major German cities, with the aim being to increase this number by another 2,000 next year.

In the same press release, Lukas Beckedorff, managing director of Automations-Lösungen GmbH, said:

“With our solution, we are offering consumers even more flexibility. Our goal is to operate the largest open locker network in Germany in cooperation with the various parcel service providers and brick-and-mortar retailers.”

Speaking on the topic in a soon-to-be-published vlog on the Last Mile Prophets YouTube channel, Różycki and Winter also offered their thoughts on why DHL could be making its foray into open parcel locker networks in Germany.

In Różycki’s opinion, DHL’s OneStopBox launch could be motivated by potential for regulatory action in Germany:

“I think it could be more to do with preempting any move by regulators to say, ‘hold on a minute, you’ve got a dominant closed network, you’re leveraging your superior power versus competition, and we’re going to make you open up’. If they say they have 13,000 lockers in-situ, and this network is going to have up to 2,000 by next year, then that’s a drop in the ocean really,” said Różycki. He goes on to say that ”another reason could be to disincentivize other players setting up an alternative open network and/or leave My Flex Box as the only “kid on the block” offering an open alternative network”

Winter added that market developments in Germany in recent years, namely parcel locker patents expiring and exclusive locker deals also coming up for renewal, may have prompted DHL to launch an open network as a means of meeting the expectations of the major retailers it has deals with.

“DHL has probably tried to renew its contracts with those massive retailers. However, we know that some of them have said they’re happy to renew, but don’t want to be exclusive because there’s another half of the market they feel they ought to serve. So perhaps there’s been a commercial push to say ‘we’re going to share our lockers, and thereby overcome the objection to renewing some of these relationships’. That could be part of it as well,” said Winter.