UK parcel delivery firms avoid snow, but snowed under by parcels

The UK’s package delivery industry has escaped severe weather disruption in the run-up to Christmas this year, but has been snowed under by the sheer numbers of e-commerce packages coming through their doors. Industry observers have so far noted that the pattern of pre-Christmas shopping has changed this year, as more consumers tend to complete their shopping much later in December, with shoppers having the confidence to do their last-minute shopping online rather than going out to brick-and-mortar stores.

As a result, rather than a “traditional” peak of consumer shipping activity in the last few days of November and first few days of December, as seen in previous years, this year has seen volumes continuing to surge consistently through to Christmas Eve itself.

Amazon UK announced that its so-called “busiest day” on December 5th saw three million orders taken on the one day. But industry experts have told Post&Parcel that UK parcel volumes have not really tapered since that “Cyber Monday”, as expected.

“Although many people will have started, and in some cases finished, their Christmas shopping, we do see customers ordering right up until the last minute,” said Amazon.co.uk managing director Christopher North last week.

NetDespatch, the e-commerce software provider that has been working with shipping companies like Yodel this festive season to offer web-based warehouse despatch tools, said on Wednesday that there had been a 50% increase in online traffic compared to the same two weeks before Christmas last year.

“Providing evidence that people are spending less in the shops and more online, the company’s Internet servers are being accessed up to twenty million times an hour in the run up to Christmas,” the Marlow-based company said.

White paper

UK parcel and carrier management company Global Freight Solutions is, as it did last year, putting together a white paper analysing preparations and performances of the UK industry in the run-up to Christmas, a white paper expected to be released early in 2012.

A spokesman for the company told Post&Parcel that after last year’s severe weather disruption, many parcel delivery companies had adjusted their models in order to take a more flexible approach and thereby cope with the unexpected.

Some companies had not revised their approaches, however, and have been caught out.

The GFS spokesman explained that last year, when heavy snow had made it difficult for shoppers to get to the UK high street, they had gone online to make last-minute purchases.

The experience last year may have given them confidence this year that purchases could be made online much later in December than previously thought.

The GFS spokesperson said: “This year you have a solid month of people going online and shopping, as opposed to last year, and the year before, and the year before that, where you had a burst for a week and then it petered to the last week with the last minute shopping done on the high street.”

Some big parcel companies are now looking to sit down in January and completely rethink their festive delivery arrangements, not just for next year but for all future years.

Yodel

Amazon has had to apologise to customers for not fulfilling orders in time for Christmas

Yodel, the second largest consumer delivery company after Royal Mail, is one company that has drawn some public criticism this week.

The company that took over the domestic UK operations of DHL Express last year told the Financial Times it had been struggling to handle 1.5m deliveries a day, and was building up a backlog by failing to deliver around 15,000 items a day during the peak.

It received some public backlash through social networks like Twitter, and has also received a blasting in the nation’s biggest newspaper, The Sun.

However, a spokesperson told Post&Parcel today that it no longer had a backlog.

“Both our networks are clear and we have no backlog,” said Yodel’s Sarah Barnes, adding: “As ever we will be reviewing this year’s peak when planning for next year.”

Amazon UK, has seen its customers hitting the social media to complain about late or missed deliveries. One petition called for the company to stop using Yodel, has at the time of writing received 988 signatures.

Having stated to purchasers that their orders would be received before Christmas, the e-commerce giant has been sending out apology emails stating that deliveries delayed until after Christmas because “our inventory is constantly changing based on information we receive directly from our suppliers”.

Other online retailers have blamed IT glitches for failures to deliver purchases.

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