Network Rail plans to extend its agnostic parcel collection and delivery service, Doddle, to 300 railway station stores by 2017.
A pilot store opened in Milton Keynes on 6 December 2013 and a further five will come on stream from April 2014, said Tim Robinson, route managing director, Sussex, Network Rail.
Speaking at The Delivery Conference on 4 February 2014, organised by MetaPack, Robinson said the company aimed to roll out to 75 stores by peak trading in 2014.
Doddle is said to be the only service of its kind that is available to every retailer, e-tailer, parcel carrier and shippers; creating a network of single points for the collection, return and sending of parcels.
It has launched on the back of research, which showed 65% of the population has access to Network Rail’s top 250 stations, although it has a total of 2,500 locations.
Railway stations are becoming dehumanised as tickets are increasingly sold online, said Robinson, but they also have physical space.
“That’s a compelling case to be the PUDO (pick up and drop off service) of choice,” he said.
Robinson stressed Doddle stores were not just targeted at travellers but people in the local community and would “bring a level of convenience to daily life”.
Research showed consumers were frustrated by having to wait in for parcel deliveries, he said.
The service provides email notification a parcel has arrived for collection. This reassures customers, said Robinson; as does the Doddle name.
Robinson revealed Network Rail expected collections would provide the bigger opportunity versus returns or C2C business but frequent travellers thought it would also provide value in returns.
“What was most encouraging is the degree to which non-rail users see value in these services,” Robinson added.
Network Rail said it is well-placed to serve local shoppers as a large proportion of its estate benefits from short-stay car parking, which for the most part is free for 20 minutes.
That also provides an opportunity to convert non-rail users to rail users, Robinson told delegates.
Since online shopping is open all hours, Network Rail will open every store for an average of 99 hours per week.
Home stations are expected to work better for the service than work-based locations, said Robinson.
Collections will be embedded at the checkout with retailers, while Doddle could also be used as a secondary collection point for failed deliveries by carrier networks.
Robinson reported Network Rail is also trialling domestic and international shipping, as well as working with the locker expert, ByBox, in the South East.
Roll out of the Doddle stores to station sites is tipped to be pretty rapid since Network Rail is the landlord at the majority of sites, Robinson said.