UK Christmas shoppers urged to return to high street amid Royal Mail strikes | Retail business

Shoppers struggling to find Christmas gifts online amid strike-hit parcel deliveries have been urged to try a low-tech solution: their local high street.

With a quarter of annual toy sales in December, the boss of toy chain The Entertainer told the Guardian he had been forced to extend his delivery window to seven days and drop his next day offer due to delays.

“We had to extend our delivery promise from three to five days to five to seven,” said Gary Grant, executive chairman of The Entertainer. “All the couriers are overcharged because although you can always give packets and parcels to the Royal Mail, you cannot rely on them to deliver them.”

“We had to stop offering express delivery because we cannot guarantee it. Every day, many boxes are delivered, but not on time. »

Big names in retail such as Waterstones have brought forward their “last order” dates for online shoppers. The bookseller’s cutoff is now two days earlier on December 19 and its website warns that the postal strike could mean a “delay of our stated delivery times”.

Around 100,000 Royal Mail postal workers will walk out on Wednesday and Thursday in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions, threatening Christmas deliveries and major retailers such as greetings card company Moonpig to warn of delays.

“If couriers are already saying they can’t cope, anyone buying on the internet expecting it to be guaranteed is now likely to be at risk of being disappointed,” Grant said.

“Not everything is cheaper online. You will get the same price in our stores as on our website and you can pick it up and take it home. So walk down to the main street and experience old fashioned customer service.

Richard Shorey, founder of the Shop Local campaign, said there were many stories of unreliable internet deliveries. “Go live a face-to-face experience with a human. So much nicer to meet someone than to click a button,” he insisted.

Marks & Spencer says most orders are delivered within the usual time frame, but warned some online orders “may take a little longer to arrive”. It pushes its click and collect service, which requires no minimum spend.

David Jinks, head of consumer research at delivery price comparison site ParcelHero, said: “Planned strikes affecting traditional postal deliveries just before Christmas could upset final order dates.

“Express last minute and next day deliveries can cost at least five cents more than standard delivery options. Cash-strapped Britons, faced with higher bills and runaway inflation, simply don’t have the money to spend on expensive delivery options.

Retail experts expect shoppers to return to the high streets in greater numbers this year as fears over deliveries combine with lower fears over Covid infection, compared to the season holiday hit by Omicron last year.

The number of shoppers was still about 9% down from pre-pandemic levels last week, but that’s down from 11% the previous week. According to watchdog group Springboard, traditional high streets, with a mix of eating, drinking and shopping establishments, are doing better than malls.

Neil Clifford, the boss of shoe retailer Kurt Geiger, said his online sales were up but his physical store sales were also up and trading better than expected, in part due to fears over deliveries, although the store has only changed its delivery dates by one day.

He said: “I think people love the shops. It’s the first normal Christmas for three years and people feel good to be back and not worried about getting sick. He said it was unclear how the next week would unfold with the travel disruption, snow and cold weather competing with postal strikes to influence behavior.

The delivery issues come despite parcel volumes being lower than last Christmas as the end of the pandemic, along with cost-of-living pressures, alter spending patterns. With Royal Mail – the UK’s largest parcel carrier – hampered, individuals and businesses are routing parcels through rivals and in some parts of the country the delivery network is overheated.

Last week, Evri – which was formerly known as Hermès – apologized for the delays, saying: “Like everyone else in the industry, we are experiencing higher than normal volumes, in part due Royal Mail strikes, as well as last mile staffing. shortages in some local areas.

Rival company DPD said on Monday it had suspended next day deliveries to around 5% of UK postcodes listed on its website due to industrial action by Royal Mail, adding: ‘When delays occur we inform the recipient of the package directly.”

Courier companies send regular updates to business customers at this time of year and Tom Forbes, chief customer officer of tech company Metapack, says a common theme is that they all have local repositories that exceed their capacity. As a result, there are hundreds of postcodes across the country where deliveries fail to arrive on time.

“When a depot is overwhelmed, you can’t dispatch the vans efficiently,” Forbes said. “You’re dealing with yesterday’s traffic as well as today’s traffic and the only way to take the pressure off is to stop the volume coming into these depots. This is exactly what carriers do.

Metapack’s software links retailers to more than 350 carriers, but against a picture of lower parcel numbers, Forbes says couriers had not stepped up their expansion so could not easily absorb the overflow from Royal Mail. “The Royal Mail carries 40% of the country’s parcels,” he said. “Nobody has that kind of idle capacity in a business.”

Andrew Goodacre, chairman of the British Independent Retailers Association, said: ‘With train and post office strikes, I would say the best way to get those Christmas presents is to visit local shops.

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