France is struggling to adapt to new online digital services with a drastic fall in usage of ‘digital’ red stamps when compared to physical stamps.
In 2022, 275 million letters were sent with physical priority red stamps (which represents approximately 750,000 per day nationally), however, so far in 2023, only 3,500 digital stamps are being used per day.
Between 5,000 – 10,000 digital red stamps need to be bought daily for the service to be sustainable, says La Poste.
There were security concerns over the service before launch and many people are discontent with the digitisation of a service that has traditionally been in-person, increasing fears over a ‘digital divide’ in society between the tech-savvy and those with limited online skills.
These ‘digital’ red stamps have completely replaced their physical counterparts, with sales of the old ‘timbre rouge’ having stopped on January 1, 2023.
The new online service that goes with the new stamps allows users to digitally upload their documents to La Poste’s website, with a member of La Poste then scanning them before they are printed at a location close to the letter’s final destination.
The service can also be used in a local post office, where La Poste employees can assist users physically.
The digital service is slightly more expensive than the stamps it replaces – €1.49 for the digital stamp, and €1.43 for the old physical red stamps.
The slight increase in price, however, is not reported to explain the huge drop in users.
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As documents are handled before mailing by staff, concerns persist over the ability for other people to read letters that may contain personal or confidential information.
Letters are also printed physically in La Poste branches with fears over who can access printing areas.
Letters that are scanned are then also archived for up to one year after they are sent.
Printing and folding of letters are done by machines, and documents are deleted off local La Poste servers, the company said, in an effort to assuage fears.
Concerns still seem to persist however, with many reluctant to use the online service, preferring to keep the contents of their letters to themselves.
Read also: France’s new digital timbre rouge: Will my letter be seen by staff?
Many are also angry over what they see as a digitisation of a vital public service.
A petition against the introduction of the stamps by the PTT postal union received 30,000 signatures last year.
The petition focused on the threat to postal workers’ jobs by the move to online service, but also on the removal of a key public function for those who do not have, or do not know how to use, the internet for such services.
Around 15% of French people do not have access to the internet at home, and 28% do not feel confident conducting an administrative procedure online (like using a digital red stamp), according to a report by Le Défenseur des droits.
The moving of vital public services online can increase inequalities for those who lack the necessary access or skills, with La Poste’s increasing use of digital measures just another element in the widening of the ‘digital divide’ in France.
Over 1,000 La Poste offices closed between 2015 and 2020, meaning that for those who cannot use the digital service, there are fewer and fewer locations where they can still find in-person help.
Those with disabilities who cannot reach a post office can order a pick-up of documents to send directly from their home, but this does provide help to all of those affected by the digitisation of the service.
A necessary measure
Senior La Poste figures still support the decision, however.
“Industrially, it was necessary to remove the red stamp,” said Philippe Wahl, CEO of La Poste.
Profit and usage became “marginal” for the product, he added, and said that the €500 million that will eventually be saved from scrapping physical red stamps will help deal with the service’s growing financial troubles.
La Poste is currently facing a deficit of over €1billion.
The service is also an ecological move, which decreases the distance postal workers will have to drive to deliver mail whilst still keeping to the next day guarantee.
La Poste estimates that the digitisation will cause them to emit 60,000 fewer tonnes of CO2 per year.
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