Post mortem on the courier delays caused by snow

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It’s been a few weeks since the snowy weather just before Christmas and all couriers are saying that they’ve caught up with the busiest time of the year and the back log caused by the weather. I’ve spoken to a number of couriers and Royal Mail to establish what went wrong and how well they coped.

Without exception the message I got back was that the delays caused by the snow were totally unavoidable. All couriers are designed for parcels to flow through their networks. In normal circumstances a parcel despatched in Plymouth for example, will be picked up, sorted in the local depot, routed to the national hub, passed on to a local delivery depot in Edinburgh and be out for delivery by the next morning.

As soon as parcels stop flowing through the delivery network it causes problems and couriers simply don’t have the facilities for storing parcels. Most couriers resorted to hiring temporary warehouses and this is where the problems really started for eBay sellers.

There has been much said on various forums that couriers operated a last in first out process. Couriers themselves (including Royal Mail) insisted that their procedures are to operate a first in first out policy. In reality most couriers were unable to even transfer parcels to the North of England and Scotland. These parcels were not only delayed but had the knock on effect of clogging up warehouses in the South.

There has been speculation that Royal Mail purposely delayed old mail, in preference to parcels posted later, in order to meet their delivery targets. However it’s worth pointing out the period from 6th December 2010 to 1st January 2011 was already excluded from their published quality of service targets.

This is the case every year for Royal Mail (exact dates will vary year to year – basically it’s the first Monday in December until the beginning of January). There would be no logic in as rushing through new mail at the expense of mail already delayed in the network, simply to reduce the total quantity of delayed mail, as delays over this period are not included in aggregated figures.

Once the weather improved doubtless all couriers processed new parcels as they arrived at the same time as working through the backlog. With the best intentions in the world, if parcels have been stored in temporary warehouse it would likely be impossible to process them sequentially. This is compounded by the fact that in many cases they were stored in multiple locations in different parts of the country wherever the courier managed to secure temporary warehouse facilities.

For future instances of poor weather on-line retailers face a difficult decision. Do you post all your sales knowing that whilst some will get through others will be delayed or do you hold back despatching items to avoid being caught in the backlog? Again if you hold back shipping items (even if you pack them) do you yourself have space in your warehouse to hold a weeks worth of packed orders if you delay despatch?

Hopefully we’ve seen the last of the poor weather for this year, but what plans will you put in place for next time your deliveries are affected by snow?

29 Responses

  1. Very Interesting. But before anybody puts away the Thermals and Snow Tyres and thinks that Winter 2010/2011 has finished with us yet. We should consider 1947 the bad weather did not start until 28th January 1947. Until then it had been fairly average. Then on the 28th January the snow and very low temperatures started. February was dubbed “fearsome February”. There were times in the month when daytime temperatures across the nation did not rise above freezing and there were heavy frosts every night(sounds like December 2010). It appears that March 13th was the worst day. In many places the snow did not thaw for over 60 days. There is a belief that the half baked theory of Global Warming has been proved total rubbish and in fact we are in a period of Global Cooling. If this is true then it is expected that for the next few years(estimates vary as to how many but it has been suggested that it could be a minimum of about 30 years or in excess of 50 years. Each Winter will be more severe than the preceeding. In which case Winter 2011/12 will be more severe than 2010/11 and so on. If this is true then we need our Couriers and Postal Services to be prepared. After all Canada and other Countries where Winters are usually more severe than the UK’s do not stop and go into chaos mode just because there is snow on the ground and freezing temperatures. Even if the Couriers and Royal Mail do not believe the theories it is their responsibility to put in place contingency plans to ensure that they can cope in the future. So may I suggest that they all liase with their opposite numbers in such as Canada and Scandinavia and draw up contingency plans. After all Winter 2009/10 should have been a warning that the run of mild winters was coming to an end and the warning was ignored. We must not be caught out again.

  2. Snow we can cope with and understand and allow for 2 weeks or so
    theft and poor management for the other 50 weeks of the year is something we cant grasp or allow for, we wonder where all these un delivered and lost items end up, its about time the Royalmail introduced a credible affordable and reliable tracking system
    that can actually be traced rather than a vague message saying its in our system, my lunch isin the system and the only thing I really know is that it will turn to crap eventually

  3. I think two things have come out badly for us from this:

    One our courier has a full tracking system and updates customers with delivery times etc, why couldn’t they use the same system to update customers as to where their parcels where and what was happening?

    Second Royal Mail seem to have returned a mass of parcels with ‘Not called for labels’ attached, we have then tracked these parcels back to customers who had issues during the snow and we had often already re-sent it….There were to many for it just to be customers who couldn’t be bothered to collect them!

    I think all companies need to plan for this and what to do WHEN it happens again and give us plenty of information, such as if it is best to wait a few days before dispatching goods to help them out!


  4. Two points:

    1. We are still getting buyers telling us packets have not arrived yet, even from early December RM.

    2 We currently use Citylink & our local collection guys has been replaced a few times recently, so to stop items not being collected we’ve taken to dropping the packets off at their local depot (only a few miles away).
    I went over there a few weeks ago & the only way I can describe the place was ‘Unorganized chaos’.

    There was cages everwhere loaded with packets, the quey of customers wating for their parcels were out the door & around the block (even when snow was everywhere).
    One of the rivers said, Fedex were just starting to accept new parcels ( @ 10/1/2011) & all the parcels in the warehouse were old ‘items’.

    ‘Beam me (them) up Scotty’

  5. Over the last week, we are getting a few “Not called For” returns from within the UK but the main problem for me is not 1 parcel sent to the US between 29/12/10 till the second week in January has reached its destination!!

  6. Don’t forget that the bad weather impact on deliveries also depended upon “health and safety” bods willingness to let staff carry on with their jobs and also how (or if) the local council dealt with the state of the roads. How could anyone be expected to do a delivery job safely if the roads were not cleared? Road claring is the responsibility of the local council (in most cases) and unfortunately most of them failed miserably.
    In Southport 10 days after the snowfall the town centre was still chock-full of compacted snow and 1ft deep puddles of slush. Pensioners were falling on their arses like dominoes and Sefton Council had street maintenance staff picking up litter!
    I think these courier companies and Royal Mail should be making complaints to the local councils and then perhaps working together to avoid such a bad situation again.

  7. we dont really have a problem with Royal mail etc we think they did a grand job considering conditions, easy for us to moan sitting in a warm office,

    we feel
    ebays help was less than useless, with buyer expectation problems

  8. CHRISTMAS 2011

    Headline News……….
    “Now that the Royal Mail is privatised, the new owners, keen to get value for money from their staff, have instructed postpeople to carry gritting salt in their trolly to grit the pavements & pathways, as they deliver post”.

    Councils will not receive free post for the duration whilst snow is on the ground as in lue payment.
    The new owners are looking at ways to charge everyone….

  9. There wasn’t any folding stuff in a brown envelope was there Chris.

    Many Royal Mail workers were confirming first in last out policies. At our main depot in Derby the postal workers were told not to come in to work and when they eventually did, they were told they did not haven to deliver in certain areas. In other words if their is 2 inches of snow this can be deemed undeliverable. Mail was arriving in truck loads at the main depot as usual but they would not let it be delivered.
    Royal Mail can and will tell you what they like and everyone can believe what they like.

    Royal Mail suspended Special Delivery guarantees for weeks and post offices were not required to tell their customers.
    Royal Mail are using ships to transport air mail to the States but sell this service including expedited services as Air Mail – no mention of this at the point of sale.
    The fact is Postcomm rules do not insist that they tell their customers anything

  10. Just had a very interseting (if short) chat with eBay support with regards to automated emails.

    As sellers, we now can not disable the sending of feedback reminder emails. They are sent to the buyer, 48 hours after dispatch!

    As most of our buyers purchase economy, they generally receive the FB reminder email BEFORE the item.

    The customer service guy said:

    “This is a corporate decision, they won’t change it just because you think it’s not a good one”

    This surely is going to encourage INR and neutrals, low dsrs etc for communication and postage…what do you think?

  11. I think we should get our hard hats on and demonstrate in trafalgar square against the ebay regime

  12. The CS rep said that the email reminder is sent by “eBay” now and not from the seller “via” eBay.

    This is why we can no longer stop them being sent.

    There is NO doubt that the statistics that eBay have show that where a buyer leaves feedback after having been “reminded” to leave it generally leaves lower scores.

    Lower scores = lower discounts

  13. A few years ago eBay offered eBay Express up to the corporates and they said no.

    Maybe its time for eBay to launch “eBay Collectables” for used gear only?

    And apply the small seller ethos and simplicity for selling “one offs” that eBay had a few years ago before the corporates took over?


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