Local 'parcel exchanges' to transform online purchases

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DX Group, the postal services company, is considering plans that would allow 90 per cent of the population to collect online purchases at nearby petrol stations and shopping centres 24 hours a day.

The move would mean that online orders would be delivered to parcel exchanges, where the goods would be stored in locked boxes until the customer comes to pick them up.

DX already operates 350 exchanges in the UK, but they are used mainly for business needs, such as services engineers collecting tools necessary to complete maintenance work. The division is currently worth £16m to DX, less than 10 per cent of group revenue, but this would grow rapidly if John Coghlan, its chief executive, signs off plans to increase the number of exchanges to between 1,500 and 2,000.

"The objective is to get as high a proportion of the population as possible at a 10-to-20 minute drive of these exchanges," said Mr Coghlan. "The exchanges would be at petrol stations, shopping arcades, train stations, bus stations, airports – places where people pass and that are available 24/7."

Initial estimates put the cost of setting up 1,700 exchanges at £35m to £45m. A final decision on the move is expected in the first quarter of this year. DX has been in talks with a number of rivals, logistics companies and retailers about possible joint-ventures. Mr Coghlan said that DX would potentially partner firms that have more retail experience than his company.

The proposal is the latest in a number of ambitious expansion plans for DX. Last month, the firm, which is owned by the private equity group Candover, signed a deal with Royal Mail that made it the first private courier to use Post Office counters for delivery and collection. It gives it access to 1,400 post offices, following a trial in more than 90 locations in London last year.