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PEAK 2020 How couriers and retailers are responding to the ‘exceptionally high’ number of parcels to be delivered this year

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This year’s Black Friday, when sales took place predominantly online, has been inevitably followed by a rise in deliveries that is now proving testing for couriers and postal services. 

Online peak trading expanded to fill November, according to etail trade association the IMRG, which says Black Friday shopping was 38% up on the same time last year. Retail has moved further online during the year, with the Covid-19 pandemic accelerating a trend that was already ongoing. That meant high levels of ecommerce demand were more likely than in previous years. Then, non-essential shops in England and Wales were ordered to close during second lockdowns in November, giving shoppers little alternative but to buy online – especially if they wanted to avoid going to shops for health reasons. 

Delivery companies have reported “exceptionally high” demand following on from November. 

Royal Mail took on about 33,000 temporary staff to support a permanent workforce of 115,000, ahead of this peak trading season and it also opened eight temporary parcel sort centres – two more than in previous years. But during this pandemic year it is facing higher demand than ever, a Royal Mail spokesperson said in a statement this week. The practical effects of that include some parcels ordered online taking much longer than usual to arrive.

“The combination of greatly increased uptake of online Christmas shopping, in no small part driven by the recent lockdown, and the ongoing Covid restrictions mean that all delivery companies are experiencing exceptionally high volumes this year,” said the statement. “Every single parcel, letter and card is important to us. We remain grateful to all our customers for their patience and understanding as our dedicated workforce work hard to deliver these exceptional volumes, whilst also adhering to necessary social distancing measures. We remain determined to be there for the country, just as we have been all year, and to ensure that we help all our customers deliver Christmas 2020.”

This weekend it will run a full Sunday parcel delivery service as it looks to get parcels delivered as soon as possible. But it warns in the statement,“Despite our best efforts and significant investment in extra resource, some customers may experience slightly longer delivery timescales than our usual service standards. This is due to the exceptionally high volumes we are seeing, exacerbated by the coronavirus-related measures we have put in place in local mail centres and delivery offices. In such cases, we always work hard to get back to providing our usual level of service as quickly as we can.”

Yodel says that it took a record number of food and drink parcels over Black Friday, with food, wine and drink deliveries up 86% on 2019. In the two weeks around Black Friday, Yodel handled more than 800,000 parcels containing these goods. It cites Kantar research showing a permanent change in shopping habits, with six million households now buying groceries online – more than ever before. 

Mike Hancox, chief executive of Yodel, says: “The weeks across Black Friday are a peak period for us on any year, but this year the intensity has been dramatically increased by the pandemic.

“Consumers, keen to benefit from the advantages of doorstep delivery, have triggered a steep rise in demand for online deliveries – and our order book shows that this is particularly the case for food and drink. We anticipate that this level of demand will be sustained until Christmas as families prepare for their festivities. We’ve been operating at ‘peak’ levels since March, with volumes up 20% compared to a ‘normal’ year and are forecasting Christmas 2020 to be another 20% on top of that.”

Retailers have responded by adjusting their final order for Christmas delivery dates, says ParcelHero, which each year runs a Christmas parcel deadline checker. ParcelHero’s head of consumer research David Jinks says that retailers selling online may need to bring forward their final order dates if they are to guarantee Christmas delivery. So far ParcelHero has seen retailers including Evans Cycles, Jigsaw, Topshop and the White Company do just that, while New Look warns customers to check delivery dates and allow 48 hours on top of their promised delivery time, and Superdry is offering different dates depending on whether an item is sent from its UK or its Belgian distribution centre. 

He says: “Due to Covid, Christmas was always going to stretch retailers and their delivery partners. Last year, 387m of the 462m Christmas peak deliveries were online shopping orders. This year, retailers’ deliveries alone will put an estimated 592m parcels in the system in the weeks before Christmas. That’s in addition to all the parcels people are sending to their friends and relations during lockdown.

“Given the strain on delivery services already, we won’t be at all surprised if many more retailers change to even earlier final order dates as Christmas nears.”

Retailers may find relief in a finding from data and insight platform Dynata. It says that shoppers are now more wiling to return to the high street to finish their shopping. In the week beginning December 7 it found that 17% now plan to shop in a physical department store or large retail shop, up from 13% the previous week, while 43% plan to buy from an online department store – down from 48% last week, and 50% the week before. It also found that 10% of the 1,000 UK adults it questioned are yet to start their Christmas shopping, 12% have completed ‘less than half’ – but 18% have already finished – and 35% have finished most of it. 

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