Amazon is disrupted by British couriers preparing for a difficult Christmas


The balance of power in the UK package delivery market is changing. Amazon is once again a major disruptor as it challenged the market leader Royal Mail in one of the toughest Christmas seasons expected to be a British courier.

along with The labor market is the tightest in 40 years And the availability of workers expected to deliver success or failure this season, Amazon has proactively offered a bonus of £1,000 to attract employees.

The American technology giant also increased its Christmas staff to about 75,000 this year, jumping from less than one-third of the Royal Mail peak before the pandemic to nearly half.

After competing with rivals Hermes, DHL, UPS, DPD and Yodel, after the online surge during the pandemic, the two major groups in the UK market both added 20,000 seasonal employees to cope with record orders.

“One of the issues between now and Christmas is labor availability,” said Tom Forbes, Metapack’s senior vice president of operators, whose software links distribution centers with delivery companies.

The spread of Omicron variants has also exacerbated recruitment challenges. The absentee rate of Royal Mail employees was almost twice that of Christmas 2018, causing serious problems in the delivery office.

Indeed, as the pandemic accelerates e-commerce and compresses years of growth into months, recruitment has become increasingly important. According to data from technology group Pitney Bowes, British Airways delivered 5 billion packages last year, or 14 million packages per day, an increase of one-third from 2019.

It is expected to grow to about 5.7 billion this year. Early signs indicate that this Christmas peak may be close to challenging last year’s transaction volume. During the Black Friday week that started the peak season, orders for the technology provider Metapack system increased by 11% year-on-year, but have lagged behind the previous year in recent weeks.

Royal Mail accepts employees’ family and friends instead of relying on bonuses to solve labor shortages © Anna Gordon/FT

However, the surge in demand comes as retirement or career changes caused by the coronavirus and Brexit have sucked workers from the British workforce, especially truck drivers. No workers who have been on leave this year are ready to join.

Chief Executive Mike Hancox said that the shortage prompted Yodel to raise the wages of drivers by 16% in October to keep them ahead of the busy period.

But the front-line workers still felt the pressure, and cracks began to appear.

Metapack said that due to labor shortages and severe weather, some carriers have reported that handling and delivery rates in some warehouses have dropped by 20%.

At the Jubilee Mail Center of Royal Mail in West London, Chuck Berry’s “Come on, Johnny, come on!” On the radio, postmen frantically but methodically stuffed mail and packages In the delivery bag of the sorting station built for the letter (the company’s traditional product).

“Very busy. This is a crazy rush. We are at a loss today,” said Paul Bishop, a postal worker who is going to deliver goods in the week after Black Friday.

MJ Sebastian, a delivery driver who works for an Amazon subcontractor in Milton Keynes, said that since last month, the number of packages he has to deliver has doubled to 300 per day.

“It’s very busy, it’s raining, and no one helps us. They didn’t consider how much pressure they put on their employees,” he added.

In addition to recruitment activities and bonus offers, the American group also uses technology in places such as Milton Keynes to push drivers to provide more services through a system that aggregates multiple addresses under one “site”.

Although drivers say that many addresses are within walking distance of each other, the organization insists that it sets realistic expectations and works hard to prevent workers from being put under too much pressure.

Other groups are also actively recruiting. DPD stated that its focus is on hiring regular employees before the peak period, and said its £150 million investment in an automated parcel sorting center in Leicestershire was a great help.

“The real potential troubles at this time of year are usually things that we cannot directly control, such as traffic and weather,” it added.

“The biggest challenge is to keep up with the pace of change,” said Shiona Rolfe, Royal Mail Service Delivery Director © Anna Gordon/FT

Marek Ró?ycki, managing partner of the consulting firm Last Mile Experts, said that the recruitment problem in the UK is made worse by the relatively poor infrastructure, which makes express delivery work labor-intensive. Unlike countries such as China and Poland, few lockers and parcel stores can help relieve stress.

“Given the current state of infrastructure, the only way to deal with massive growth is to admit more people,” he said. “Everyone has a peak problem, just how big the problem is.”

However, Royal Mail has modified the route to improve delivery efficiency. The group was spun off from the Post Office retail network in 2012 and stated that after changes including re-planning of routes, the number of flexible employees it needed was reduced by 13,000.

Shiona Rolfe, the company’s director of service delivery, said that the 505-year-old company has hosted family and friends of employees, relying on recommendations rather than bonus incentives to attract employees during peak seasonal periods.

“This will be a market where it will be more difficult to attract people to participate in operations because we are very aware of the number of jobs that exist in the UK,” she said. “We took this opportunity to start our recruitment activities early.”

Royal Mail is making changes, such as hiring a dedicated package delivery driver, but it needs to further modify its “walking street” model.

Since the parcel department is now the main profit driver, it can no longer rely on a system to handle smaller letters, especially as the size of packages increases, some even up to 8 feet long.

“The biggest challenge is to keep up with the pace of change,” Rolf said. “The important part of making these changes is to keep everyone with us,” she added, referring to the need to increase efficiency without alienating workers.



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