May 4, 2020

“The New Normal”: What can carriers take from the Covid-19 crisis?

On one hand, delivery demand is sky-high, resources are stretched to their limits and, depending on who you listen to, there’s no end in sight. On the other, children are hanging ‘thank you’ posters outside their homes for postal workers and delivery drivers, now rightly viewed as brave, essential to communities and helping to keep us safe. In a matter of weeks, it’s been quite the adjustment for carriers and postal services, but what will their ‘new normal’ look like in the months to come?

The long-term impact of social distancing

Social distancing is now a given in all circumstances, but in a parcel sorting scenario, this translates into a problematic process slowdown, as fewer employees can be accommodated in the same amount of space. Consumers are currently patient and prepared to accept a longer wait for their parcels, but as demand plateaus into consistent volumes that’s likely to wear thin and sorting will be the bottleneck that drives postal services and carriers to investigate automation options. This is an open door for new areas of investment, as we’re now in a place where cobots (or co-operative robots) in the workplace are commonplace, affordable and viewed as complementary to the skills of an existing workforce. 

Extra sanitation and protection as standard

Although the World Health Organisation says that the “likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low”, hygiene practises in the delivery industry continue at an intensity that varies from country to country. In China, sorting spaces have been undergoing the kind of deep cleaning you might expect to see in a hospital, while Thailand’s postal service have been disinfecting all packages received from outside the country as a matter of course. Supplies for personal protection, hygiene and sanitisation have been provided for use by employees in sorting offices, out on deliveries and in counter service and this looks to be an ongoing cost that posts and logistics carriers must factor in for the long-term.

Regaining consumer confidence through contact-free returns

Right now, returning goods is a particularly big issue and it’s a fair bet that postal operators who occupy retail footprint will turn to technology to ensure consumer confidence. Retailers are relaxing their returns policies in line with government restrictions and sympathy for customer anxieties, but as restrictions ease, it is rightly anticipated that consumers certainly won’t feel entirely comfortable with counter service for their returns. Long-term planning has already sparked an increased interest in Self-Service Returns, as well as other contactless means. Ultimately, it will be viewed as an investment in regaining lost sales and any knock-on effect this may have on their contracted carriers.

Replacing the signature

Is there really any need to sign for a parcel anymore? Probably not, as it turns out. However, there are tricky areas to consider, such as age-restricted goods, or doorstep returns, which have traditionally required signatures by law or for the protection of both parties. While a photograph of the recipient taken by the courier is adequate for now, it’s a stopgap of a solution that is riddled with loopholes. This could be addressed by a combination of new processes at checkout by retailers and technologies where recipients can use their smartphone to scan acceptance of deliveries.

Meeting at the last mile

Ticking both the speed to customer and contact-free boxes, a huge rise in PUDO is certainly on the cards. Dropping off in bulk to a single point can represent huge cost efficiency to carriers and postal services, while customers can select the place – locker or counter – that is most convenient and feels safest to them. In the reverse, plentiful access to hygienic, low-contact PUDO locations means that retailers can quickly reinstate their standard returns policies and regain control of their inventory.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Change inevitably comes with a price tag, but this shouldn’t be viewed as reactive and negative. The situation we find ourselves in is by turns bleak, frustrating and tragic, but the industry has also been afforded a way to scrutinise itself like never before. Every element of the logistics experience has an opening for new efficiencies, the next big push in digital transformation and honest conversations around expectations and the experiences of customers and employees alike.

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