MPost: The virtual P. O. Box may be just what you need for the digital age

In the digital era, the post office box is all but dead. Or so we have been thinking.

I mean, how many of us still enjoy making the trips to some back alley where we can find the blue box that contains all the treasures we have been anxiously waiting for? And the bills that we have to grudgingly settle. In fact, how many of us at all have ever had to make those trips?

SMS has been around for such a long time now that there is an entire generation out there that only hears about the intimacies of love letter writing from the old ones among us. Today, there’s WhatsApp and other new age messaging apps that convey everything in all multimedia formats: audio (voice notes, recorded clips), video, emoji, photos, stickers, GIFs… Name it.

Money? Well, the post office and money orders (remember those?) used to be a thing. Now, with mobile money services like M-Pesa, that service is something you have to explain to the young ones in detail since it has all but disappeared from our national memory.

If you’re still with me you can now see that there’s very little need for Posta and the services they offer like the post office boxes of old, right? I mean, even good old Kenya Power stopped sending the (postpaid) electricity bill via the PO Box. As did utility companies like the water and sewerage services company that serves my home area.

E-commerce

It is the holiday season and given the many juicy deals available on products we like online, a good number of us will end up making purchases.

Given the lack of a proper national physical addressing system, it can be very hard to make orders for items online and have them delivered to the correct address.

The convenience of e-commerce remains exceptional, well except for the unmatched in-store experience when you get to sample an item before buying it. However, for many, it is the deliveries that remain the weak link.

Locally, e-commerce platforms have previously partnered with the Postal Corporation of Kenya to have deliveries made in the various post offices countrywide.

What if the Postal Corporation of Kenya just exploited this extensive network of theirs to make it easy for just about anyone to get their own postal address where deliveries can be made directly to by both local and foreign e-commerce (and other) companies?

MPost

That is exactly what’s happening in Posta’s latest collaboration with Safaricom which will see the latter’s subscribers offered virtual post office boxes that are tied to their mobile phone numbers.

MPost has been around for a while but under this new arrangement, the service gets a home under Safaricom’s umbrella of services, as we will see below.

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How to get MPost

If you plan on shopping online, on platforms like AliExpress, the PO Box is the one thing you need to have if you are to avoid expensive international courier services. And it is very easy to get.

Here’s how:

  • Decide which particular physical post office you want your virtual PO Box to be associated with. This will be also where you pick up any mail and parcels that are sent to your virtual PO Box. Once you’ve settled on the physical post office that is most convenient to you – it can be close to your place of work, school or home (don’t worry, this can be changed at any time), you should then look up its postal code. You will need the postcode during the registration/sign up process. In case you don’t know what the postcode of the post office of your choice is, you can look it up on the MPost website.
  • Dial *234# on your phone
  • Navigate all the way to option 9 and select it as per the on-screen instructions
  • Select option 1 in the resulting screen i.e. ‘Register’
  • Key in your national ID card number
  • Key in the postcode you settled on in step 1 above
  • You will receive a notification for the successful (this far) registration. You will then be required to make the necessary payment i.e. Kshs 300 in a subsequent pop-up window.
  • Once payment has been made, sit back and wait for the confirmation message from MPost with details on your new virtual PO Box tied to your mobile phone number. This virtual PO Box will be something like 254722000000-00100 where 254722000000 is your mobile phone number and 00100 is the postcode of the post office you selected.

How it works

“Customers using the service will receive their mail at no cost as is the case with a traditional box, and they will receive an SMS notification whenever they have mail to be collected at their Postal Branch. The mail can then be collected over the next 7 days over the counter.”

Need I say more?

Why MPost?

If you plan on buying and shipping in items from overseas merchants like the ones that ply their wares on AliExpress, you will definitely need a postal address where your order will be delivered.

I ordered an HDMI switch from AliExpress back in March just when it became possible to pay for AliExpress orders via M-Pesa. I used Posta for shipping but that was not without its risks. I did not indicate any PO Box in the shipment address, just my physical address in Nairobi. The good thing is that I used the Nairobi General Post Office’s code. That meant that when my order arrived – after just a fortnight – after sorting, the folks at GPO notified me that my package was ready for collection. All this could’ve been a breeze with no thoughts of things going wrong (my package getting lost in the process), if I had registered for or had MPost.

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Here’s the other thing about MPost… While making that risky move when opting to have my package shipped to Nairobi from China via post, it is not like I didn’t have an actual PO Box I could use. I did. In fact, I have run my family’s post office box for my entire adult life. I am the custodian.

The problem? I am currently based in Nairobi where I work and live and that home PO Box is at GPO Mombasa. Every other time I have something delivered through it, I have to either schedule a trip home or get a relative to pick it up on my behalf then task them with opening the package to confirm the contents or, if it is a letter, to read it out to me over the phone. The other option, having it sent to me (again, sigh) in Nairobi is redundant and expensive. As is travelling all the way down there for a letter or a package. See where I was coming from now?

Now, with MPost, my mails and other deliveries should follow me wherever I go. Even better, there’s an option to link that existing physical PO Box with the virtual one.

There’s also the bit where the physical PO Box is actually very expensive and there may be no good reason for individuals to keep one (it makes sense for companies and businesses) in this day and age. For instance, in my case, I pay over Kshs 2,000 every year (see 1, 2) to keep the physical PO Box I maintain on behalf of my family going. There’s really no competition when you pit that amount to the Kshs 300 that one pays per year for MPost, is there?

For everyone else who’s never had a PO Box, a virtual PO Box removes all that reliance on the PO Box operated by the nearest primary school or church which brings with it its own risks – like critical mail getting lost in the process and all.

The ability to track the current location of one’s mail and SMS notifications every step of the way are very big pluses.

Does MPost make sense to you?

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com