New research finds remote working delivers huge opportunity for direct mail

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Mailing houses around the UK have delivered a bullish response to the Covid-19 crisis, viewing the pandemic as a tragic but short term occurrence and not the death knell of the letters’ market.

Even at the height of the first wave in March, the vast majority – 83% – believed their business would survive – and new business wins were reported as people working from home presented an ideal opportunity for direct mail. 

The Strategic Mailing Partnership is the industry body that represents more than 150 mail producers from all corners of the UK. The partnership conducted a survey of member businesses that recorded a response rate of 40%; between them, respondents produced several billions of mail packs during 2019. 

Survey responses revealed that 98% saw the pandemic as a one off event, with a number reporting they had taken on new clients in addition to winning extra work printing Covid messaging.

While only 4% of members had been able to continue working without placing staff on furlough, almost three-quarters (73%) thought the growing number of people working from home was a big opportunity and could persuade customers to retain or expand their use of physical mail. 

Figures are backed up by data from JICMail, that found the engagement rate of mail had increased to a record 96% in Q2 2020 – a 5% gain on the same period the year before. All mail was interacted with 4.5 times in the same period and is significantly higher than the average frequency in Q2 2018.

The majority of respondents – 65% – believed that volumes were unlikely to return to pre-Covid predicted levels until 2021. As part of their recovery strategy, 17% said they were intending to design and produce new types of mail packs.

The business impact survey was carried out as an alternative to the annual SMP Summit, that gives mail makers the opportunity to get together to exchange analysis and ideas. The partnership’s chair, Judith Donovan CBE, said while cancelling this year’s summit was not ideal, the survey had revealed some priceless insights. 

‘It goes without saying that the pandemic has obviously had a devastating effect on the UK economy as a whole. But one of the emerging trends from our member survey is that many believe this could be a real opportunity for physical mail,’ said Judith.

‘It has always been a trusted way to communicate but with so many people now working from home it is having an even bigger impact; people are at home to pick it up read it and digest it rather than stepping over it on the doormat as they fly out of the door to get to the office.

‘Yes, volumes of mail have fallen but the main reason for this is down to customers in sectors such as hospitality and leisure simply not being open for business, with others citing budget cuts and clients going bust as a reason for the decline.

‘However, others have reported a positive impact on volumes and have won new business with clients looking to tell their customers they are open for business or have changed their offering and also from charities appealing for funds.’

Other insights from the research include:


  • 72% said making their premises Covid compliant had not been too difficult.

  • At the height of the pandemic, 83% believed their business would survive.

  • 91% believed recovery would be by sector, with retail being the first area to get back on its feet, followed by e-commerce.

  • More than half (55%) said data made available through JICMail would help retain or expand customers’ use of physical mail.

  • 96% had placed staff on furlough, with 19% still furloughing employees.

  • 62% had made staff redundant.

  • Members produced more than 30 billion mail packs in 2019; by May this year, production was down by 46%.

  • Half of all respondents said they had been planning major investment during 2020 prior to the onset of the pandemic. Of these, 43% had cancelled with half saying plans had been delayed rather than scrapped.  

Judith added, ‘Our members are a knowledgeable bunch and operate in all four corners of the UK. Our board members alone employ more than 20,000 people and have a combined turnover of around £2322 million. These people really do have their fingers on the pulse of what is happening in the industry right now and amid all the gloomy national headlines, it is clear that the current circumstances present opportunities for direct mail.’

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