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By Mike Jones, Head of Delivery
When I grew up, there was no internet, e-commerce or online sales at Christmas time. The challenges we grappled with then were a world apart from those we face today. Being an excited child on Christmas day was all well and good, as long as my parents had remembered to buy batteries that were compatible with my main present! Back then, whether it be for batteries, spare parts or further bargains, Boxing Day was always the biggest shopping day. But e-commerce and a phenomenon born in the USA called ‘Black Friday’ has all but overtaken any sales records seen on Boxing Day in years gone by.
Whilst Black Friday is well established as the unofficial start of the Christmas season in the USA, the UK has only seen its impact on retail in recent years. No one really knows who was responsible for this trading period becoming such an important part of our working and personal lives, but companies with strong US connections such as Amazon UK and Asda were the first to give us a flavour of what to expect. However, it is fair to say the courier market experienced the same challenges as Black Friday in March 2020, and the delivery networks have never really slowed down since!
Year on Year growth
It is almost certain that this year, from Black Friday bargains through to last minute Christmas shopping, will be a wholly digital peak trading period. With the ongoing pandemic and the possibility of further restrictions, shopping patterns are likely to revert to online and digital platforms rather than traditional methods which, at the moment, many of us can only dream of. These patterns are impacting ILG too, with many of our clients selling exclusively online. With so much uncertainty still ahead of us, I am very concerned about the future of our High Streets.
At ILG, our UK shipping spikes can be tracked across our peak trading period through 2019 but, as you can see below, the pandemic has given us more than a flavour of what is just around the corner for UK shipping in 2020:
Since the e-commerce boom in May the volumes have levelled out, albeit at numbers well above any we expected at the start of the year. In the six-month period from March to August 2020, the growth for UK shipping compared to our 2019 figure was a staggering 448%. If this trend continues, we expect our parcel shipments to UK addresses to total 1,156,211 in November and 1,370,604 in December. We will soon find out if these figures turn out to be a reality, however we are expecting to ship record numbers. If this is the impact ILG is having on the courier network, imagine what the figures are like nationwide, both since the pandemic began and for forecasted peak.
Nothing is ever ‘Guaranteed’
I find it mildly amusing when a new service provider approaches me with the promise of deliveries being guaranteed. In my opinion, any service provided by any supplier in any country cannot be guaranteed and should not be sold or advertised as such. This is because I have witnessed a parcel’s journey from point of dispatch to point of delivery. Even when the process and route it takes are planned and supported with world-leading technology, there are still multiple factors (both within and outside our control) that could contribute to success or failure of a delivery on any given day.
In 2010, eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland caused air travel in Europe to come to a standstill for six days. This meant that shipments destined for Europe could not fly and carriers were forced to route nearly all traffic via road, which caused huge backlogs and untold delays to express shipments. Of course, there are often clauses that sit behind a ‘guaranteed’ service to protect businesses against these types of events financially. But I cannot imagine what the fallout would have been for companies (and their clients) that passed on guarantees to win and retain business, only to come unstuck from such an event.
Set realistic expectations and don’t over deliver
This is far easier said than done for many reasons. Everyone wants to be one step ahead of the competition. Delivery service, price and transit can be the difference between winning or losing a client. But I see many companies that overstate and fail to manage client expectations against what is realistic. Often, they lose more than they gain, and it is understandable why. If realistic expectations are set early, then there should not be any nasty surprises further down the line. It would be easy for me to say that everything will be fine in this peak period, and I sincerely hope it will be. But in reality, and from what we have seen this year already with the increase in UK parcels since March, it is vital that we understand what could happen over the next two months.
Our preparation for this peak trading period is complete. We have submitted forecasts to our carriers based on your feedback and extended working hours and shift patterns to cater for the expected volumes, whilst retaining safe working practices. I have to say I am incredibly proud of what our operations and transport teams have achieved in the most difficult of circumstances since the pandemic began. I have no doubt they will continue to exceed all expectations. Here are my 5 key points and insights into how you can successfully manage delivery expectations this peak:
1) Review your own delivery promise and service offering. Make it realistic – We all want to be successful this peak but take time to review your delivery options and decide whether they are realistic. Will you meet the expectations set, or do they need revising and brought into line with the challenges the industry are facing this year? If you are unsure or need advice and guidance, please feel free to get in touch with me on this subject.
2) Prior planning prevents poor performance – There are many variations of this well-known military adage, but this could prove to be critical for your peak deliveries. Take a minute to reflect on your peak planning. Have you thought about the delivery services you are offering, and will these be the deciding factor between success or failure? It is never too late to make revisions and ILG can help with our multi-carrier solutions.
3) Limit your premium options – I applaud any carrier that removes timed deliveries and premium services from their offering over peak, as this sets a clear expectation in line with their capabilities. We are seeing more carriers suspend premium services due to the high volumes forecast, and this will help them achieve their goal of delivering what is realistic and achievable. Are premium services part of your offering? If so, understand what is available to you now so you can plan for the weeks ahead. Please reach out to me if you need to review!
4) Know your client – The technology available in the industry today is mind-blowing and carriers are spending millions of pounds to be recognised as market leaders. But the success of technologies and overall first-time delivery success rates, is only as good as the data supplied. Consumers are set to be given more control over their deliveries, but if key pieces of information are missing, these mechanisms will be useless. Make sure you obtain your client’s mobile number and email address so our carriers can use the technology as intended. This could be a deciding factor in the success of your deliveries.
5) Prepare for the unexpected – Winter is almost here. Shorter daylight hours and less predictable weather will only add to the challenges facing the industry. At ILG, we try to plan and cater for events that we have no control over and always provide options should there be issues within the network. Stay in touch with ILG this peak as we will be providing updates to notify you of delays and uncontrollable events as they arise. Some of the most challenging times of my ILG career have been when the weather takes a turn, especially in peak. But thankfully we have always had options available to us if one of our suppliers struggled to deliver. Be prepared, stay in touch and talk to us if you come up against any challenges!
I truly believe that, in many ways, this year will shape our industry for years to come. We have all had to adapt to what has been thrown at us and will continue to do so to stay ahead of the competition. This industry, more so than many others, has seen unprecedented volumes and challenges. We have done all we can to prepare for this peak trading period and our Client Services Team will do everything to rectify your delivery issues as these arise. Please keep in touch with our communication channels and Client Services Team this peak – we are all in this together!