On Friday last week, Safaricom and the Postal Corporation of Kenya revealed MPost, a digitized postal office box that is geared towards making sending letters and parcels great again. Mpost, however, has been around for a while, but Safaricom’s hand in it will see users with Safaricom SIM cards use their phone numbers as P.O. Box addresses. On the whole, that is the entire story, but there is more that makes the entire arrangement an exciting development in the local digital era where impressive mobile penetration, cheaper phone call rates, and chat apps have made the traditional forms of P.O. Boxes mostly obsolete.
Convenience, security, and affordability
See, making your phone number your new virtual P.O. Box solves a lot of problems, especially if you are the kind that is still tied to the traditional system where you pay a healthy sum annually to run the box at a postal office near your home or workplace. I say this because people still receive important letters, including interview invitations, job confirmations, power bills, parcels, et cetera, hence the need to keep their accounts running.
Mpost eliminates all that in a variety of ways: it is easy to open (dial *234# from your Safaricom line, and follow the registration prompts).
Notably, MPost is under option 1 for M-PESA Products. Pressing 98 for ‘more’ reveals more details, after which you will see M-POST at number 9. Alternatively, press *234*1*9# to go right to the desired page.
Basically, you don’t need paperwork, or a visit to a physical office just to open a P.O. Box account; and the address you get is tied to your phone number and will look like this 2547********-00100, with the postal code at the end as is the case with old regular mail addresses (the one indicated is for Nairobi). You should, however, choose a postal code that works for you – and there are more than 600 of them depending on your location.
Another option is using the Mpost site to register for the service.
It is cheap
In addition, your new address is more affordable (you do not need a dedicated physical slot and a key at the postal office) at KES 300 yearly. That is a small price to pay, but we understand why that is the case because Postal Kenya will not incur costs of servicing a physical box (that has since been eliminated), and it is actually attractive for people or businesses that have been reluctant to open an address because pricing was not fairer.
In some instances, people have been sharing P.O. Box addresses because it is cheaper, but that introduces another issue: privacy. Honestly, there are mails and parcels that should be kept private, but that is not the case here when the person who picks them is not the intended recipient, and God forbid he/she opens them for reasons best known to them.
The new virtual box ensures that this is not the case because letters will be delivered to your doorstep if you pay more – or you can just go to the office and collect them because that address is specifically yours, as is your phone number.
There is also the case of tracking. Previously, people used their instinct to estimate when a mail would hit their boxes, and back then, the exercise would take up to three weeks or a month. Mpost says that it will track your mail and parcels, and you will receive an SMS notification when it arrives at your postal office. The process should not take more than a week.
All these for KES 300 a year that is paid via Safaricom’s MPESA.
Young people are buying a lot of products from online marketplaces, hence the boom in the e-commerce field. Those sites make some money through shipping costs, which tend to get higher if a delivery destination is far away. Delivery to remote or rural areas is a logistical nightmare as well, and here is where Mpost wants to come in.
There are thousands of deals right now for those who like to shop online, and some of these people are not near big towns and cities where deliveries are made effortlessly. With your new digital and virtual P.O. Box address, those deliveries can be shipped to your home post office.
Case in point include groups that use AliExpress. The Chinese e-commerce site is a popular stop because of its electronics deals, and unlike other global e-commerce sites that do not sell to Kenyans directly (thus the need to use other expensive shipping solutions to get your product home), AliExpress supports M-PESA payments (no need to use a Debit card), and ships products to an indicated P.O. Box address – only that it can be a virtual one this time around, meaning the items can be delivered wherever you are.
By the way, did you know that you can use the same *234*1*9# USSD to change the location of your virtual box at no fee?
Ghana has the same model for delivering letters and parcels, but it is limited to physical addresses rather than phone numbers that most people have. The use of physical addresses with unique landmarks is not a bad idea either, but it poses issues in a country like Kenya, where the addressing system is in disarray, save for select uptown areas. This, however, is going to change soon if we were to take the Communication’s Authority of Kenya’s (CA) word that it is finalizing the addressing system for the entire nation. That way, deliveries will be easier as we have seen in developed countries where mailboxes are next to one’s home, and the likes of Amazon deliver parcels to one’s doorstep. Will Mpost take us there? Unlikely, but we are looking forward to a close implementation in many years to come.