In Switzerland and Austria, postal customers already have the choice between a fast "A-" and a slower, but cheaper "B"-Post. The situation could be similar on the German mail market in the future: more flexible letter transit times are a core element in the key points presented by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy for a reform of the Postal Act.

Helmut Bünder

Business correspondent in Düsseldorf.

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There are already initial approaches to this, but not for everyone, but only as a special regulation for bulk shippers: In addition to the usual business customer discounts, they have been receiving a "transit time discount" of 3 percent since the beginning of the year. The prerequisite for this is that they agree if their letters are on their way a little longer.

What looks like a first step towards the reform sought by the ministry is now occupying competition supervision. Competitors accuse Deutsche Post of misleading. They suspect a price reduction in disguise and have turned on the Federal Network Agency. Deutsche Post also justifies its offer with environmental and climate protection. The discount is a basis for "increasing sustainability," according to a presentation.

However, according to statements from major customers, nothing has changed in terms after the introduction of the discount. The discounted shipments would be processed and sent in the same way as letters for which the full postage had been paid, according to a letter from the Federal Association of Letter Services (BBD) to the Federal Network Agency.

Swiss Post's competitors are not sleeping

In January, the mail company Deutscher Versand Service (DVS) commissioned a special transit time measurement for discounted and normally paid letters. Result: The proportion of letters that were with the recipient the day after delivery (E+1) was almost identical in both groups.

"A price discount without any consideration is a hidden price reduction with which Swiss Post wants to secure its own market share," said BBD Chairman Walther Otremba. The network agency and the cartel office must prevent "competitors from being displaced by dumping prices".

A Post spokesman rejected the allegations as "simply false". In the case of consignments with a transit time discount, half are usually delivered "E+1", the other half on the second day after posting. The distribution between shipments with and without transit time discounts is "data-driven as part of the sorting process". In this way, Swiss Post can smooth out peak loads in delivery. It passes on the associated cost advantages through the discount.

The offer seems to be excellently received. With often tens of millions of letters a year, it is about more than just small change for large business customers. Practically all major shippers take advantage of the transit time discount, according to industry sources. At least half of the letters – instead of the usual 80 percent, Swiss Post promises – should still arrive within one day even with the discount. At least 97 percent, on the other hand, should be with the addressee after two days at the latest.

Most letters are sent by major customers

Large customers, on which the competition concentrates, account for more than four-fifths of the total letter volume. While Deutsche Post works with high discounts in this segment, it complains on the other hand that the postage of 2024 cents for the standard letter set by the Federal Network Agency until the end of 85 is set far too low. The officially controlled letter prices only apply to consignments in small quantities.

Swiss Post is largely free to determine the discounts for major customers. At the peak, the discounts amount to half of the usual postage. There is no official prior approval – but it must be ensured that the prices cover costs. In such competitive tests, in turn, the approved postage also plays an important role, as a basic price and reference basis. One aim of the postal reform is to tighten the supervision of abuse and thus ensure more competition on the mail market.