Spanish Postal Service, Correos, Costing the Nation Dear?

How hard is it in the 21st Century to run a decent postal service? The UK has managed it for years, yet in Spain everyone accepts that Correos, the national postal service, simply cannot be relied on to work.

Let me give you an example. This week I phoned RENFE (the train operator) to make a reservation for some tickets to Toledo. They asked as usual at the end of the call whether I would like the tickets sent to me in the post, or would collect them from the station. Like any sensible person used to living in this country, I opted to collect the tickets in person, knowing not to trust that they would arrive in time by post.

So instead of picking them up in my mail box this morning (when in an ideal world they might have arrived), I have just spent one hour going to the station to pick them up. So, there’s one hour lost for a start, due to my friends at Correos. No doubt similar time is being wasted all over Spain every day of the week.

Marina always says that there is no culture of buying on-line here in Spain as a result of the fact that people don’t trust the whole mail-order concept. In the UK, it was easy to go from phone ordering (with postal delivery) to internet ordering (with postal delivery). Yet here in Spain mail order never took off, and even now, 5 to 10 years after people have happily been ordering online in the rest of the world, Spain still has to get everything from the shops. No one trusts the post.

That means no Amazon.es, and nothing remotely as efficient as US DVD postal-rental service Netflix, two services I would really love to see here in Spain and am very jealous of. But my frustrations aside, hardly any online commerce must mean less spending in general – not good for the nation’s budget.

Speaking of Netflix, there are Spanish copycat services, where you book films online and they supposedly arrive at your house, but guess what, they are widely slandered online (in Spanish forums etc), and I, like many, didn’t risk signing up. While researching such online-postal DVD rental services last year, I came across the following report:

Logistics: Correos, the Spanish postal service, presents two clear problems for the online sector in Spain – reliability and the incidence of loss of discs. So great are these difficulties that one key player has developed an alternative delivery system and is keen to abandon postal delivery altogether. For the remaining competitor using the system, delivery times cannot be guaranteed to customers, with average turnaround at three to four days. During the summer months the average becomes considerably higher […] The importance of a reliable postal service is underlined by the fact that the Spanish company that still depends on it told Screen Digest that unhappiness with the postal service is one of the main reasons that customers give for canceling subscriptions.

I think it’s going to be an awfully long time before we see an Amazon.es operating fruitfully in Spain.

41 thoughts on “Spanish Postal Service, Correos, Costing the Nation Dear?

  1. Erik R.

    I have done quite a bit of internet shopping with items shipped to Spain. But they were always shipped with DHL, UPS, FedEx, SEUR or some other internationally reliable service. Never with Correos. I, perhaps naively, don’t have any problem with shipping things via Correos myself because they’ve never failed me. In fact, I had been wondering why Amazon and other online retailers aren’t more prevalent in Spain. Now I know. So thanks for that.

  2. Chiny

    Why collect RENFE tickets at all; buy on line and print at home. I have just done that for Madrid/Cordoba, despite the flaky RENFE web site.

    I do agree re Correos who only ever manage to deliver State-run utility bills to me with everything else junked.

  3. Julie E.

    Timely post. Today I happened to stand at my local Correos office for an hour and a half to get through a dozen-or-so-deep queue just to send off a package. (I got through a This American Life episode and half a RadioLab on my iPod, so it wasn’t entirely wasted time). But to think that in the U.S. right now there is efficient, fast and most importantly, reliable post (today’s tax day by the way, although of course many people e-file nowadays).

    What I wouldn’t give for Netflix and Amazon service here. Maybe with the future postal de-monopolization it will happen. Eventually.

  4. Charles C Stirk Jr

    Is there a postal serves in the Spanish diaspora that has a decent reputation … More of a wonder then a slam

    In my experience in the americas there are all forms of courier services .. beyond the standard internationals DHL (evil !&%$*¿í¦?) , UPS, FedEx and such as bus companies airlines etc.

    Not to mention the multiple fee based drop box couriers .. you have a address in Miami in the eeuu or pick a city in the EU & have your mil delivered weekly in Lima with out the standard taxes & duties that you would have with SerPost DHL , UPS or FedEx .. & I seen & used other similar services all over the Americas

    Is there a similar type thing in Spain ?

    SerPost in Peru has a better reputation then it used to but still has issues .. Primarily the high taxes & duties on some items , books are like 40% unless they are “gifts” ..

    Post being a collection point for taxes & duties maybe a historic issue for general usage ?

  5. saiguanas

    I think we could all learn a thing or two from the Vatican postal service. I mailed a postcard from there and it arrived in Texas in about 4 days.

  6. Grace

    I think we should be thankful that the majority of mail actually reaches its destination here. In Italy a 30% (correct me if I’m wrong here) of mail never reaches, ever.

  7. Moscow

    Then you will be happy – or perhaps extremely worried – to know that the next big thing is liberalization in the EU postal market. This will be coming near you soon as the EU directive, I believe, is already in place and should force a number of countries – amongst them Spain – to open up their postal services to competition.

  8. frank

    Here in UK, so long as I upload photos to an online printer before about four in the afternoon, they are delivered the following morning, I can’t see that happening in Spain somehow! ;-) We live in a rural area of UK, and shop heavily online, and generally find the postal service to be excellent.

  9. Pepino

    Perhaps a bit of competition would drag standards up in Spain. In the UK, the postal service is pretty good, near excellent, but I think the opposite will happen there with competition instead dragging down the service by increasing general confusion. I think some services benefit from a touch of centralised control (within reason) such as transport and post etc.

    Maybe the low standards in Spain also explain why the Correos offices are so few and far between (ie, no one wants to use them, so they don’t need so many).

    Another thing is that many people, certainly here in BCN, live in flats with tiny letterboxes in a wallpanel by the main door. Anything bigger than a letter has little chance of fitting in, and who knows who’s rummaging their fingers through the pile of random items that the (lazy) postman can’t be bothered putting into the boxes, and just leaves lying on the shelf for everyone to look through themselves. Anything that looks like a renta DVD would disappear pretty quickly I reckon with some less-than-honest neighbours.

    I dread ever having to send a parcel to the UK. I’d rather not bother, or just wait until I head back over there for visits, and do it myself if possible.

  10. leftbanker

    I am completely against privatization as long as there are models of government agencies pulling off a decent postal service. I find the U.S. Postal Service to be an incredibly effective organization and prefer it over private enterprises like UPS. Spain probably just needs to invest more in the infrastructure. It will cost citizens less in the long run than abandoning it and being at the complete mercy of the private sector.

    As far as the tickets to Toledo, couldn’t you just pick them up on the day of your departure?

  11. Ben Post author

    @Chiny – you are a genius! You saved me a second trip to the station today (as I couldn’t even get the tickets yesterday as Renfe’s ticket machine was acting up – a whole extra rant I spared you all from!)

    @Leftbanker – too risky, they might have sold out. Plus it means huge queuing times…

  12. Pepino

    Yep, too risky to pick up the tickets on the day. I’ve only travelled on a Renfe train once before and luckily I decided to get my tickets the day before. I had to queue for an hour and would easily have missed my train had I left it until the day.

    My next, and second only Renfe journey, will be this coming Friday on the AVE to Madrid. I’ve printed the tickets out (seems to be the norm with AVE??), and I’m hoping for a stressfree journey. Let’s see if that’s what I get :-)

  13. Graeme

    Well I’ve just printed my ticket out for an AVE trip from Madrid to Barcelona today, so if there is any problem with the system I will report it by tonight – otherwise assume it works!

  14. dean hunt

    Yes, I would agree that the postal service is a major issue with regards to the lack of online shopping.

    Trust and change are two other problems.

    For example, I have heard of some people who purchase online in Spain, and have to fax their passport etc for “security”… thus making online shopping a long and tricky procedure.

    Plus there seems to be an element of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”, and a fear of change that will stifle progress.

    A friend of mine who owns one of the biggest telecoms companies in Spain, once told me that he believes Spain is 5-10 years behind the UK and America with anything to do with the Internet.

    I don’t think he is far off.

  15. John Ross

    Both amazon.com and amazon.co.uk deliver in Spain, no problem (or have done in the past, it’s been a year or two since I placed orders with either), so it isn’t that. As I understand, the reason there is no amazon.es is that its business model is not compatible with the Spanish minimum book price (books are still Amazon’s core business). The market is supposed to have been liberalized, but it hasn’t really, the maximum discount on books major retailers can apply in Spain is still only 5%, and because delivery costs need to be added to order prices, Amazon needs to offer 30-45% (and I’ve seen discounts over 50%). The fnac has something close to a monopoly on bargain book shopping here, and is accessible to practically everyone in the country, so Amazon simply wouldn’t be able to compete.

  16. Ben Post author

    John, thanks for the info, that sounds about right, but still what a shame the Amazon has no place in Spain…

  17. John Ross

    I quite agree it would be nice to have a Spanish Amazon (though fnac and the Casa del Libro and so on are nearly acceptable substitutes, and you can always order from the UK or US, as I said). Just that I think Correos has quite enough going against it in terms of PR without blaming it for the sluggish development of the Spanish on-line retail sector as well.

    Incidentally, isn’t our stance as creators supposed to be anti-Amazon these days? Amazon is great for consumers, of course, but it gives them a good deal by thorougly stiffing authors, songwriters and so on. How is a writer struggling to emerge supposed to make money if Amazon not only sells his (new) book with that sort of discount (so slashing his royalties) but also advertises a further reduced second-hand price on the same day his book is launched? They’re creeps. Doesn’t mean I don’t use them, mind you.

  18. Diego

    You can check out pricenoia.com for Amazon price comparisons between the site’s different local version, it will even tell you the final price including currency exchange and shipping charges to Spain.

    About Correos, I don’t have to rely on it much but I haven’t had such bad experiences as described above.

    Cheers,
    Diego.

  19. BrianA

    I too have had no really bad Correos experiences. I use the internet quite often for parts, consumables etc and have made a few larger purchases. Paying via the bank transfer system seems relatively easy, but you probably lose some of the guarantees from using a credit card so I normally only use it with bigger companies. There is also a “signed for” postal service that cuts down the chance of missing goods. We get our parcels from the post office usually, as the cartero leaves a collection slip only. I guess it is down to the local offices as to how good the service is.

  20. Cyril

    Spanish people often stick to their traditions. I guess that is the point with doing online shopping. Not that this is a bad thing, only they don’t trust the Correos that much. If you don’t trust them it is very easy to order online and have the stuff send by other companies then the Correos.

    I don’t have any bad experiences with the Correos but is it bad to go out once in a while?

  21. ElDuque

    For your information Correos has over 60,000 employees and forms part of the huge Ministerio de Fomento (AENA – airports, Tráfico). This makes it somewhat of a cumbersome monster. It is likely Correos will be privatised in the future, as was Iberia, Telefónica and other former public sector companies.

    EU postal legislation will open up markets in 2011 and this has forced Correos to beef up it’s service quality, particularly in light of competition from Unipost in Spain as well courier companies Seur, Nacex and MRW.

    Mail order actually does not work too badly and infact DHL delivers Amazon.uk orders in Spain through Correos courier arm, ChronoExpress.

    Spanish mail/internet order companies such as Barrabes (ski equipment) use a combination of Correos and UPS to deliver items.

  22. Ben Post author

    Elduque, thanks for the info. I know it’s not all as bad as it seems, and in fact everything I have ordered from Amazon.co.uk has arrived here in one piece, sometimes it takes a while though. I would just love to be able to order electronics items here from an Amazon.es… Amazon.co.uk won’t ship electronics to Spain.

  23. Anna

    I read all your comments and i am stunned! Since i arrived 5 years ago to Bilbao, i have been amazed how well the post works. I always go back to Sweden and brag about the excellent postal service in Spain (but maybe after reading your comments it is only the north…) I get letters and packages sent from Sweden very often they ALWAYS arrives within MAX 3 days. I have lived in many different European countries and have never experienced anything that efficient. Not one letter, postcard , i have kids and their grandparents keep sending postcards almost every second week, not one has gone lost!! i am super impressed. WE have more problems with the couriers (SEUR, MWR etc, where packages suddenly disappears….

  24. La Gatita Gringa

    Perhaps I have been fortunate but I’ve found mail delivery to be exceptionally fast. Overseas mail delivery both from Madrid and my current saw-ed off little town in the south takes about three days. To Canada, no less!

  25. Postal_solutions

    All your comments have made good reading as I am an interested party. In 1994 I set up and continue to run IMX Spain which offers postal and distribution services to clients inside and outside Spain looking for alternatives to the state service. At the same time my company is a mail consolidator for Correos.

    For those of you who wish to buy from Amazon or other online shops and want to bypass Correos there is a solution. We provide an address in UK or USA and you can send your items to this address. At this point they are consolidated with other client’s products and brought to Spain. These can either be collected at one of the Postal Centres that I have set up or sent to you by courier within Spain. Subject to various criteria this can be cheaper than using the international rates published on the website that you have bought from. Some websites send goods within their own country free of charge.

    Correos recently told me that the quantity of parcels received from abroad has increased by over 100% in the last two years. This is a reflection of more people ordering online and also an improved quality of service. The recent introduction of a tracking system for their ‘paquete azul’ product has given international distributors much more confidence in their system. Where Correos seems to fall down is on dealing with problems when they arise – even if you speak Spanish.

    Additionally for those of us living in Spain the time wasted queuing up and the service we get once we get to the end of the queue is very frustrating. Their delivery service is very hit and miss and dependent on the time of the year and your location. For some unknown reason the Alicante region appears to be particularly bad – also for the private companies. If you live in some urbanisations along the Costa del Sol there is no service at all.

    I have sent out hundreds of thousands of items of printed matter through Correos and have had varied delivery results. Sometimes the campaign arrives within 3 days and at other times the bulk of the items have taken over 6 days with the stragglers taking a lot longer. Mind you the direct marketing service is supposed to take between 3 and 5 days. I have yet to meet a client that has decided to curtail their mailing campaigns because of the service. The normal reason is that the response rate is lower in Spain than in other countries where mail order is more established.

    It is easy to understand why Spaniards, generally speaking, are distrustful of online and distance selling companies when you consider that in the early days of mail order in Spain there were several cases of fraud and the fact that, after the Franco era, the mail service deteriorated. Both these elements have held back the market in Spain.

    2011 is an important year for the postal sector in Europe. Correos is not the only EU post office that is rushing to make improvements before the sector is liberalised. Currently non-local items under 50g remains part of the state monopoly. Their fiercest rival is Unipost who provide a hand delivery service in Spain. This threat is even greater as Deutsche Post (owners of DHL) have almost a 50% stake in Unipost. The gossip suggests that they will take full control once the market is liberalised. This is just the start of the consolidation in the mail industry. A few years it would have been inconceivable that two national post offices would have merged as the Swedish and Danish post offices have just done.

    Hopefully this will lead to an improved delivery service in Spain and this in turn will lead to more online / postal services. I am not sure, however, if these improvements will come fast enough to allow DVD rental by post to develop as a market before we can all download the films we want through our internet connections.

    If anybody wishes to contact us for solutions to their mailing problems, please contact us. Details can be found on our website. http://www.imxmail.com

  26. Wannabegafapasta

    Since 2007, Correos is no longer a Government company. Because of liberal policies in EU, Correos is a “state company” (a venture with a 45% State funding and 55% private funding from varied investors), and now behaves like a private enterprise. Trouble is that this was meant as a transitory state between the state monopoly and the ultimate liberalization (which is still due, meaning that there are no competitors allowed).

    What happens, then, is what we got in Spain is a “de facto” monopoly, maximizing profit and forgetting public service. CORREOS postmen are no longer “long term” employees but young people with mere 3 or 6 months long contracts; the time of delivery is as long as 30 years ago; the prices of stamps and deliveries has gone up steadily; and, adding insult to injury, CORREOS made clear the first months of 2008 that it wants to cut off the rural postal service: every country inhabitant who lives more than 200 meters away from the main road may have to go get ALL his letters and packs to a “collective postbox” still to be put someplace, or to the nearest post office (nearest meaning a travel of 25 kms back and forth)

  27. cindy

    i live 3 km outside of our small town and have to go into town for my mail. we have finally been approved to have our mail delivered to a central box. well it was approved 2 years ago, but the box hasnt been done yet.

    one thing that erks me is that my family sends gifts for bdays or xmas and the correos has charged on several packages 20% import taxes. my husband even had to go down to the airport one time to pick a package up. he had to bring down proof of the value of the items. ( it was a gift, we didnt know what was inside, and had to ask my mom to fax a copy of the receipt to show how much she paid. how embarrassing!!) we live over an hour away from the airport. very inconvenient.

    so what if people used on line purchasing more often? beside the normal taxes, they would have to pay another 20%? correos said that if the value is less than 20€ they dont charge. so i have informed my family to put a low value. i cant see paying such taxes for a xmas gift.

    2 times we didnt get packages from the US. both times they were returned to sender. the local postoffice has no idea why…. the returning post office was barcelona. we live outside of madrid.

    i sent a package to the us once that was returned to spain and spain gave us back the postage. that was cool !

    i would love video rental delivery. will this ever be a reality?

  28. Chris

    I have now been waiting 3 weeks for a parcel from England. Has not arrived and the sender foolishly has not insured the parcel. Did do recorded delivery but Royal Mail will only trace it to Madrid. i am now convinced it has been lost, and am having no luck dealing with correos, though have only spoken to them over the phone. Any advice? Anyone know where the main sorting office in Madrid is?

  29. Ben Post author

    I think the main sorting office is still the big correos building in correos, unless that has been overtaken totally now by the local govt.

  30. Chris

    Cheers Ben. Actually went there yesterday. No luck as yet, but was impressed by the service. Got some leads so fingers crossed

  31. Louise

    Yes the postal service in spain is pretty slack to say the least. The number of things that go missing is unbelievable and unacceptable. But what do you expect from a company that still offers a Telegram service. With the advent of text, email, facebook and everything else online does anyone still use this service??

    What i can’t complain about though is the wonderful service we get from our Postie. No need for completing forms for redirection or putting your mail on hold. We simply let her know and she gets it done. She even takes our mail & bills us at the end of the month for postage. Now that’s customer service!

  32. raytibbitts

    @Louise:
    I’m glad that you shared that with us. Hearing your story makes up for a lot of the shortcomings that have been really making my life more difficult, with regards to shipping and handling. I am glad that the system still allows for that type of personal and personable service.
    I’ve actually had more trouble getting FedEx shipments than simple Correos ones, but that has everything to do with the Provincial Delegation, as they call it, that takes the FedEx package on its final leg of its journey here in Málaga. Three times out of the last four, I had to go and pick it up at their warehouse myself.
    There are a lot of street-walkers out there by the airport. Gets me depressed every time I have to drive out there.

  33. Peter

    Can anyone tell me where I can find out what the nature of the contract is that we agree to when we post (or have posted to us) a parcel by normal bog standard post in Spain. Our postmen NEVER bring parcels to the door and always leave a note claiming that we were out when they called with the parcel. Who do they think they are fooling? I am the person who always opens the gate for the postman!! The postman always arrives on a motorbike, so I really cannot understand where he allegedly puts the parcels when he is doing his rounds. I always end up going to the post office, which in Torremolinos is a really palacial building. The staff there are lazy and arrogant. You often see 3 of them chatting to one alleged customer when there is a large queue of customers waiting. To come back to my original question: does anybody know if the postman is actually supposed to bring the parcels with him/her? I would really like to know. I am not talking about special delivery services – just the standard delivery. Un besito to anyone who can help. Peter

  34. James

    Many parcels I have tried to have sent to me in Spain have vanished.It seems to me that there is corruption and theft on an institutional scale in the Spanish postal system.
    I would never send anything of any value through Correos.Pay more and use an international courier.At least you will get your items.
    Don’t get me started on trying to get your rental deposit back in Spain either!You won’t!

  35. Terry

    I have for the last two years enjoyed collecting my mail from our local bar, bit of a social event, service was provided by a group of ladies who collected and sorted the mail for all individuals who signed up to the service (with Correos approval) from Correos Mazarron the one small drawback is that this service was only open 16.00 – 17.00 Monday to Friday still a few minutes in the queue and we got our mail. The ladies had a very simple but efficient system.
    Correos recently opened an office on Camposol have stopped this efficient service and we now have to collect our mail from the new post office, on the face of it a good deal.
    We now have to queue on average 3 hours to find if we have mail or not. We are told that mail will be held for 14 days and then would be destroyed or returned to the sender. We stand in line watching in amazement as piles of post are picked over time and time again clearly without any system.
    We are told by the local staff to buy a box in the new office but we understand not all banks and official bodies will post mail to a box number. What can we do, I am, as are most of the people affected by this bulling tactic to sell PO boxes forced to queue.
    We are mostly retired individuals, many are frail; all of us can not afford to waste so much of our life supporting an inefficient and indifferent postal service.

  36. Robert Lee

    10 days ago I used Postal Expres (Correo) to send and insure in transit a 3,000 euro Rolex, destination UK. Correo ‘track and trace’ facility says “sent from International destination office in country of origin”, that’s Madrid. This was 8 days ago and UK have no record of the package arriving. Parcel Force are the agency who would deliver in UK and they say their records show the watch as not having left Madrid.(though how they would even know of its existence is beyond me). Postage (inc insurance) was 63 euros. I registered a complaint/claim with Correo 3 days ago, and other than an automated acknowledgement, have heard nothing. Anyone got any ideas?

  37. Robert Lee

    Panic over. Package arrived Had been soaked and dried out??? Lettering barely legible. Good job it was a Submariner model!

  38. Stephanie

    I completely disagree. I’ve always had excellent experiences with the Correos in Spain.

    There aren’t enough offices? I live in Tetuan (Madrid) and there are two Correo offices near me.
    My grandmother sends me packages all the time from the Netherlands and even when she writes my address wrong they either figure out what she meant or send it back to her quickly (this happened once). And when I get a package the mailman brings it to my door (I live in a flat and once I had a lady make me come to her but I didn’t mind).

    I usually go to the Correo offices after work when everyone is there and I’ve never had to wait more than 20 minutes.

    AND YET When my mother tried to send me a package from Bermuda to Madrid – it was stopped in the grand ol’ USA for customs reasons for almost two weeks!! And Spain nor Germany held it for any time.

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