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How fuel and driver shortages are affecting ecommerce deliveries services now – and the prospects for peak trading

Queuing cars waiting to buy fuel at a BP petrol filling station in Berkshire last month as British drivers panic buy fuel. Image: Amani A/

The fuel and driver shortages that have dominated the headlines this week are not affecting home delivery services at the moment, say delivery companies and retailers. But with the reassurances come warnings that staff shortages could hit the ecommerce sector in the run up to Christmas. 

Petrol station shortages

Delivery companies – from the Royal Mail to couriers – say that they have not been affected by the shortages of fuel at filling stations that have been seen this week as motorists queue to fill their tanks with petrol and diesel. The shortages have been caused by a lack of tanker drivers to take fuel from depots to filling stations. But this does not appear to be affecting ecommerce deliveries at the moment. 

A Royal Mail spokesperson says: “We have good access to fuel supplies and are operating as normal. We continue to monitor the situation.”

A spokesperson for supermarket Sainsbury’s and sister company Argos, which both operate their own delivery fleets, says: “We can reassure our customers there are no issues with our online delivery services.”

And David Jinks, head of consumer research at parcel comparison site, says: “We have not had any reports of service delays because of driver shortage and fuel distribution problems.”

Staff shortages

Today AO World, which operates, said in a trading statement that delivery driver shortages were one of the reasons that its sales were lower than it had expected in the first half of its financial year. 

There are expectations that the situation could worsen in the run up to Christmas, when retailers normally take on seasonal staff to cover the annual peak trading season. 

Parcelhero’s Jinks says that although there are not currently reports of service delays, that does not mean all will be fine ahead of Christmas. “Around 1.3m workers left the UK around the time of Brexit,” he says. “Many of these people were so called ‘unskilled workers’ such as warehouse operatives and delivery drivers. While retailers and delivery companies have managed to get by so far, we are now in the run up to peak season, when normally warehouses and transport companies employ thousands more temporary drivers. Where are they going to come from this year?

“There has been a 41% decline in the number of EU-registered citizens applying for warehousing and supply chain jobs in the UK this year. We think the government needs to re-think its blinkered approach to overseas worker permits and extend these to warehouse operatives as well as HGV and local delivery drivers.”

Earlier this week, the government said it would issue 5,000 temporary visas so that European HGV drivers who have not been able to work in the UK since freedom of movement ended with Brexit can take up jobs in the run up to Christmas. This comes against the context that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has warned of a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK. At the time, 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “This package of measures builds on the important work we have already done to ease this global crisis in the UK, and this government continues to do everything we can to help the haulage and food industries contend with the HGV driver shortage.

We are acting now but the industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.


“After a very difficult 18 months, I know how important this Christmas is for all of us and that’s why we’re taking these steps at the earliest opportunity to ensure preparations remain on track.”

Logistics UK has said that it is concerned that those visas may effectively be of much shorter duration than it had asked for. Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at the trade organisation, says: “Logistics UK is concerned at the news that the temporary visas for HGV drivers granted by government may be for only a two month duration, rather than the declared three month period. The three month visa was much lower than the six months we had requested to enable additional testing capacity to be delivered by DVSA and more drivers to be trained. Our fear is that it is very unlikely that a two month visa will attract EU drivers which would make the scheme impotent. We are seeking urgent clarification from the government on this issue.”

Joe Farrell, vice president of international operations at PFS, which offers ecommerce and fulfilment services to customers including international brands and retailers, says: “Retail bosses have been warned that the “perfect storm” of Brexit and Covid has a lot to answer for – especially the shortfall of 90,000 lorry drivers as we rapidly approach peak. This has also come at a time when there is a considerable lack of EU workers in the mix, with many having already returned to home countries as word of lockdowns spread. 

“Retailers and brands will need to up their game and have more than one contingency plan up their sleeve, considering multi-node, pop-ups and micro-fulfilment centres for a starter – all to shorten the supply chain. Reality involves increased transportation costs, spontaneous fuel crises, and issues with keeping an eye on the spread of inventory. Considering sustainable shipping models such as right-size packaging and delayed delivery options, can ensure more packages can be consolidated on one truck. The benefit of choice here is felt by both brands and consumers.”

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