BONN (dpa-AFX) - Deutsche Post DHL Group is increasingly relying on vending machines. The company currently operates around 700 postal stations, which is about 600 more than a year ago, the Bonn-based company announced in response to a dpa inquiry. Parcels can be dropped off and collected at a postal station, stamps can be purchased and letters can be posted. Video consultation is also possible.

Separately, the DHL postal group, which operates as Deutsche Post in the domestic mail business, also has pure parcel stations, called Packstations, where parcels can be dropped off and collected, but letters cannot. According to the Bonn-based company, it currently operates around 13,300 Packstations in Germany, a third more than in June 2022 (10,000).

"We want to continue to expand our network of machines in line with demand in the future, as they are very popular with our customers," said a company spokesperson, pointing out their biggest advantage: The vending machines are available around the clock. This means that customers do not have to adhere to store opening hours, as is the case with conventional branches such as supermarkets and kiosks with post office counters.

The expansion of post offices could pick up speed in the future. According to the new Postal Act, which recently passed the Bundestag and is due to be finalized in the Bundesrat in July, they will be recognized as "universal service branches". This means that they can be counted towards the obligation to maintain a branch network. Swiss Post must operate at least 12,000 branches in Germany. There must be a branch in every town with more than 2,000 inhabitants, and in municipalities with more than 4,000 inhabitants, a branch may be no more than two kilometers away in contiguous residential areas.

Swiss Post is having problems complying with this regulation; in February there were 125 unoccupied mandatory locations - so it was not present everywhere it should have been. This is mainly due to structural change in rural areas: if the last retailer in a village closes down, the Post no longer has a local partner. Until now, vending machines did not count towards the branch network requirement - branches had to be staffed by a person. However, the new law is satisfied if the post office installs a vending machine - i.e. a postal station; packing stations do not play a role here due to the lack of a letter function.

However, there will probably not be a mass changeover from staffed branches to vending machines. According to the proposed legislation, the ratio between branches and vending machines must be appropriate - what exactly this means remains vague. The local authority has a say in the matter and the Federal Network Agency must also give its approval. It is therefore quite possible that Swiss Post wants to install a vending machine in a village or on the outskirts of a town, but that it will not be counted towards the branch network requirement.

However, statements from the Federal Network Agency suggest that the regulator does not want to put any obstacles in the way of the Bonn-based company. The head of the agency, Klaus Müller, is positive about the fact that Deutsche Post will be installing more stamp and parcel machines in the future than before. "If these machines are user-friendly and not constantly broken, this is a step forward for consumers that the law makes possible," he told dpa. The vending machines are an advantage for people, as they are available around the clock. "This is a sensible addition - provided the machines are easy to use and you don't need a diploma to use them."/wdw/DP/men