The Netherlands

2008. The pilot trial of aCon for TNT Post

In recent years TNT Post has been revolutionizing the classical concept of the post office, with new multi service offices. The next step is to make the post offices even more accessible to, and make them easier for, users. A model service that will be keenly noted by the many worldwide postal administrations.
New steps in the TNT Postal strategy began in February 2008 with the installation of new self-service postal kiosks at TNT Post Service Points (see article) - small stands placed in non postal commercial establishments, where the user can post letters and parcels, and buy some basic postal products.

The 3 first machines were installed next to the Service Points existing in the entrance area of 3 medium size supermarkets of the Dutch Super de Boer retail chain.

For this pilot, TNT Post has chosen the SPU (Self Post Unit), the self-service postal kiosk manufactured by the Danish company aCon. These kiosks have similar characteristics to those already in service in Denmark (see article) and Norway (see article), although they are customized according to the specific requirements of TNT Post and its company markings.
Through an easy to use touch screen and a very simple and intuitive interface, the user can select any of the following services (see also the screens sequence):
1. Shipment of letters and parcels ... using the scale.
2. Purchase of stamps (ATMs) with different face values.
3. Purchase of parcel boxes.
Both simple and registered mail options are catered for and the use of the scales will result in the issue of ATMs of various values.
As specified by TNT Post, payment in these machines is only possible by local debit cards, with PIN or Chip (Chipknip card), which does not present a serious problem for the users, since it is in common use in The Netherlands.
The first aCon - SPU postal kiosk, serial number 103, was installed on February 18th 2008 in the Roosendaal's Super de Boer (Van Beethovenlaan 7 -right image-), although it did not come into service until the next day, February 19th, after the supermarket employees had received training. As a new idea, the basic maintenance of these machines is performed by the supermarket’s own employees, under supervision by the Hytech company, the aCon local partner in Holland. All the aCon postal kiosks are connected to the Internet and are monitored 24/7, which allows any anomaly in the machines to be promptly noted, whilst small problems in the normal daily use of the equipment could be solved on the spot.

During the first day, various news media visited the Super de Boer to report the news. Both the managers of the supermarkets and the employees in charge of the maintenance, demonstrated a commitment to and an enthusiasm for the new installation.

Following the same procedure, the second SPU postal kiosk, number 100, came into service on February 20th in the Breda's Super de Boer (Donk 4)...

... and third one on the following day, February 21st, in the Ridderkerk's Super de Boer (Dillenburgplein 5-11). The serial number is 101.

In the 3 instances, the aCon - SPU self-service postal kiosks have been installed in the supermarkets entrance lobby, next to existing TNT Post Service Points. These post offices in miniature are currently fitted with a scale that allows the issue of variable value stamps for immediate use and sold by the supermarket’s own employees. The Service Points are integrated into stands where the customers can buy tobacco, lottery tickets and some postal products, (similar to the Spanish 'estancos'), but where letters and parcels can be posted.

This is an example of integration, exemplary in all its aspects. With this new equipment in supermarkets, TNT Post wants to make access to the postal services easier for users, so that they will not have to move to the post offices, nor to wait in long queues to be served, and in addition they will be able to manage their postal needs in outside of office hours. At the same time, they will simplify the work of the employees in charge of the stand, as demonstrated by the considerable volume of mail posted daily from this points.

The presence of a small group of specialist collectors, out to obtain the new issues, showed, that at least for a day, how philately had entered the supermarkets and this, naturally drew the attention of non-collector customers, (the future users of the new postal kiosks), to the services that the kiosks could provide.

The aCon ATM issues for TNT Post

For the ATM issue, the aCon - SPU postal kiosks in The Netherlands use identical rolls of self-adhesive labels to those used by the ProPostal 2000 of Wincor Nixdorf - NewVision (see article), although differences in the thermal impressions made by both machines can be recognized.
The face value is a larger size in the ATMs issued by aCon equipment, whilst in the case of ATMs for high-priority mail, the postal mark is a smaller size. But perhaps the most obvious difference or characteristic is the equipment number, printed vertically to the right: The ProPostal 2000 postal kiosks installed in Postkantoren has a number of machines that start with the letters PK, whilst those installed in TNT Post offices include the abbreviations TNT and number from 00001, whereas the aCon postal kiosks also begin with TNT, but with numbers from 00100.

ProPostal 2000
ProPostal 2000
TNT Post offices
aCon - SPU

In the first stage, TNT Post has installed 3 aCon - SPU self service postal kiosks with numbers TNT00103, TNT00100 and TNT00101, although there exists another 2 machines (TNT00102 and TNT00104) ready to be installed when and where TNT Post considers opportune.

Roosendaal - TNT00103
Breda - TNT00100
Ridderkerk - TNT00101

For collecting, if the user selects the 'buy stamps' option in the main menu, the aCon kiosks offers 6 face values; 2 make-up values and 4 for basic franking. On the date of installation, these values are 0.05 and 0.10 EUR, 0.44 and 0.88 EUR (tariffs for inland letters up to 20 g., and between 20 and 50 g., respectively), Priority 0.75 and Priority 0.92 EUR (letters up to 20 g. to European countries and rest of the world, by high-priority mail). The user can also obtain ATMs with any other face value, from a minimum of 0.05 EUR.

Unlike the ProPostal 2000 postal kiosks, that issues all the ATMs cut one by one, the aCon machines issues strips of 5 stamps, in case of multiple orders, with the same value.

Sheet of 10 personalized stamps with the image of the aCon - SPU postal kiosk. Customized postcard franked with one stamp and rest of franking with an ATM issued by the same machine, first day postmark

The aCon - SPU postal kiosks can also issue self-adhesive postage labels with a bar code for the franking of inland parcels (image below). For international parcels, the machine issues an ATM with the corresponding face value.

As an improvement, compared with the ProPostal 2000 kiosks, the aCon also allows the shipment of registered mail, both nationally and internationally, and the corresponding stamp is also printed on one of these large labels, which includes the face value. The first image shows the upper part of a stamp for an inland registered letter, whilst the middle one is for a registered letter to Spain.

The various receipts and slips are automatically printed after payment, on a large size thermal paper in the Dutch language only. The buy-stamps operations or the shipment of letters by normal mail generate a unique receipt, detailing the list of products and the payment procedure. For shipments of registered mail and parcels, the machine also prints a second slip with the control or registration code. In the case of parcels posted to non- EU countries, the customs declarations are also printed, perfectly completed.

Slip for the shipment of an inland parcel, with the control code and the postal mark of the admission post office (down), and receipt for a letter shipment to an European country, with the detail of the payment operation by chipknip card (right)

Screens sequence

The aCon - SPU postal kiosks are fitted with a colour touch screen. The user can select 2 languages: Dutch or English.

Welcome screen. The user can select 3 main options: To send a letter or parcel, to buy stamps, or to buy a parcel box.

Selecting the option 'Send an item', the system asks the user to place the letter or parcel on the scale.
Once the weight of the shipment has been established, the system determines if it is a standardized shipment and, next, the destiny country.

In the next step, the equipment shows the user the different types of shipment possible for the item, and the corresponding postal tariff.

Selecting the option 'buy stamps', the system displays the main current postal tariffs and offers 6 different face values, as well as the possibility of obtaining stamps with other values, by keying in the amount.
The equipment shows the stamps or products selected by the user in a 'shopping basket' and, once the purchase is finalized, the payment options available are displayed.
The last screen reminds the user to take the stamps and receipts.

The third option of the main menu allows for the purchase of parcel boxes, using the scanner installed at the front of the postal kiosk.

You will be able to read this article also in VARIABLE 8 (edition April 2008).

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This page was created in February 2008 and last updated:  15.03.08
. English edition rewritten by S. Goodman (03.03.08)