A courier is a person or a company who delivers messages, packages, and mail. Couriers are distinguished from ordinary mail services by features such as speed, security, tracking, signature, specialization and individualization of express services, and swift delivery times, which are optional for most everyday mail services. As a premium service, couriers are usually more expensive than usual mail services, and their use is typically restricted to packages where one or more of these features are considered important enough to warrant the cost.

Different courier services operate on all scales, from within specific towns or cities, to regional, national and global services. The world's largest courier companies are DHL, FedEx, TNT, UPS, and Aramex.[citation needed] These offer services worldwide, typically via a hub and spoke model.


Couriers before the industrial era

Courier or postman, Japan, hand-coloured albumen print by Felice Beato, between 1863 and 1877.

In ancient times runners and homing pigeons and riders on horseback were used to deliver timely messages. Before there were mechanized courier services foot messengers physically ran miles to their destinations. To this day there are marathons directly related to actual historical messenger routes.

Development of the modern courier industry

Types of couriers

In cities, there are often bicycle couriers or motorcycle couriers but for consignments requiring delivery over greater distance networks, this may often include lorries, railways and aircraft.

Many companies who operate under a Just-In-Time or "JIT" inventory method often utilise on-board couriers. On-board couriers are individuals who can travel at a moment's notice anywhere in the world, usually via commercial airlines. While this type of service is the second costliest—general aviation charters are far more expensive—companies analyze the cost of service to engage an on-board courier versus the "cost" the company will realise should the product not arrive by a specified time (i.e. an assembly line stopping, untimely court filing, lost sales from product or components missing a delivery deadline, organ transplants).

Representative couriers

Over time, demand for a new type of representative courier has emerged. With the increase in fuel prices and productivity goals monitored closely by companies, this new type of all-in-one courier has developed to "take care of business". Workers in companies have more work and less time to be out of the office. Operating largely using independent contractors that have gone through a screening process and background checks have found a niche in the courier industry. Research, intransit pet care, complex paperwork filing, and a host of other services are now offered in this new category of courier service.

Courier industry by country

United Kingdom

The genus of the UK sameday courier market stems from the London Taxi companies but soon expanded into dedicated motorcycle despatch riders with the taxi companies setting up separate arms to their companies to cover the courier work. During the late 1970s small provincial and regional companies were popping up throughout the country. Today, there are many large companies offering next-day courier services, including City Link Ltd. and UK divisions of worldwide couriers such as FedEx, DHL, UPS, TNT and Fastway Couriers.

There are many 'specialist' couriers usually for the transportation of items such as freight/palettes, sensitive documents and liquids.

The 'Man & Van'/Freelance courier business model is highly popular in the United Kingdom, with thousands upon thousands of independent couriers and localised companies, offering next-day and sameday services. This is likely to be so popular because of the low business requirements (a vehicle) and the lucrative number of items sent within the UK every day. However, since the dawn of the electronic age the way in which businesses use couriers has changed dramatically. Prior to email and the ability to create PDFs, documents represented a significant proportion of the business. However, over the past 5 years documentation revenues have decreased by 50 per cent. In addition customers are also demanding more from their courier partners. Therefore a shift where, more and more, organisations prefer to use the services of larger organisations who are able to provide more flexibility and levels of service is being witnessed which has led to another level of courier company, the regional couriers. This is usually one of the local companies who have expanded to more than one office to cover an area.

Royal Mail was up until recently a reasonable competitor of most of the large couriers; offering next day and special delivery services. This has however changed, with higher costs, strike action and a lowering public perception of the company. With companies like Royal Mail, it can be difficult to draw a clear-cut line between postal services and couriers.

Some UK couriers offer next-day services to other European countries. FedEx offers next-day air delivery to many EU countries. Cheaper 'By-Road' options are also available, varying from 2 days delivery time (e.g. France), to up to a week (e.g. Former USSR countries).

Large couriers often require an account to be held (and this can include daily scheduled collections). Senders are therefore primarily in the commercial/industrial sector (and not the general public); some couriers such as DHL do however allow public sending (at higher cost than regular senders).

United States

The courier industry has long held an important place in United States commerce and been involved in pivotal moments in the nation's history such as westward migration and the gold rush. Wells Fargo was founded in 1852 and rapidly became the preeminent package delivery company. The company specialised in shipping gold, packages and newspapers throughout the West, making a Wells Fargo office in every camp and settlement a necessity for commerce and connections to home. Shortly afterward, the Pony Express was established to move packages more quickly than the traditional method, which followed the stagecoach routes. It also illustrated the demand for timely deliveries across the nation, a concept that continued to evolve with the railroads, automobiles and interstate highways and which has emerged into today’s courier industry.

The Courier industry in the United States is a $59 billion industry, with 86% of the business shared by only four companies, including DHL, FedEx and UPS. The remaining 14% shared among almost 11,900 other small businesses ranging in size from 1 employee to over 600. These businesses comprise of mostly same day deliveries and are strong offline businesses and strong online businesses like NAPAREX .


Courier services in Malaysia is relatively young. In the early 1970s foreign companies such as DHL and OCS beginning their operations in Malaysia. The first local courier company to operate in Malaysia is City-Link Express (M) Sdn Bhd which began its operations in 1979. This was followed by ABX Express (1984), Nationwide Express (1985). POSLAJU (part of the Pos Malaysia) and UPS appeared in the scene in 1988. FEDEX came in 1991. In 1997 a local outfit GD Express began operating. Today the domestic courier service is mainly dominated by City-Link Express, Nationwide Express and GD Express (GDex). Both Nationwide and GDex are public listed company while City-Link Express had remained firmly in the hands of its founder, David Tan.

In the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission ([1]MCMC) report for 1H-2008 ISSN 1823-9919 it was reported that the number of Licensed Courier Service Providers as at 30.06.2008 total 114 companies.

See also


  1. ^ MCMC

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