Christmas delivery problems start early – again

The world descends further into a delusional madness of acquisition and consumption that once came at Christmas but now is promoted by such artifices as ‘Black Friday‘ and ‘Cyber Monday’.

Yodel, the UK’s second largest home delivery company (only Royal Mail is bigger) has told its customers’ customers that their deliveries are going to be late.  In an interesting piece of sophistry their web site tells us, reassuringly, that, contrary to reports, deliveries are not suspended.  It’s only collections from the supplier that are suspended.  Of course, if the product isn’t collected the delivery cannot be made, but I’m sure someone falls for that.

Of course this reflects a real challenge that delivery networks regularly face.  The networks are designed with finite capacity and flexibility comes from throwing additional resource at the problem.  But sizing the network is the challenge. and it has been around at least since commuter rail operations were designed.  Size for the peak and you’ll have lots of spare capacity sitting around doing nothing for extended periods of time; size for the average and when the peak comes you can’t handle it.

That is the reason that automation (of which there is surprisingly little in the logistics business and which has a poor reputation) works best in steady and predictable businesses.

The problem is exacerbated by social changes and retail developments.  We now want it all and we want it now.  Retailers like Amazon promise very high service levels but do little to educate consumers’ expectations.  And the blame, of course (and consequent bad press), is always laid at the feet of the logistics operator, not the retailer whose procurement people have driven the sourcing.

Royal Mail gets a great deal of stick, much of it deserved, but it does deserve credit for the service it provides – a universal service – at this time of year.