The great final spurt

Reading time: approx. 3 minutes
Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: Shutterstock, UPS

The pandemic has permanently changed consumers’ shopping behavior: In lockdown times, Germans bought significantly more online – and many want to stick with it. This pushes the classic peak season at the end of the year with Christmas shopping, Black Friday and the like even more strongly. Parcel service providers like UPS are preparing all the more thoroughly for this time.

It starts already at the end of October and has one of its highlights with Black Friday at the end of November: the “peak season” of online retail, in which particularly many people looking for gifts or bargains shop in digital stores. These vie for the favour of customers with large discount campaigns around “Cyber Monday” and “Black Week”. According to “Trusted Shops”, around three million orders were placed in Germany on Black Friday 2020 alone – 32 percent more than a year earlier. Immediately afterwards, the Christmas shopping season continues. And who brings the presents? The parcel delivery service! The service providers have been preparing for months for the big final spurt at the end of the year – which, after almost two years of pandemic, is likely to be even more intense than it already is.

Online retail has gained many new customers during the pandemic

“2021 is an exceptional year,” explains André Stein, human resources director for UPS in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. “The parcel volume has already reached dimensions during the lockdowns that we usually only know from the Christmas business. ” In 2020, 400 million more shipments were sent in Germany than in the previous year, according to the Bundesverband Paket und Expresslogistik e.V. (Federal Association of Parcel and Express Logistics) – a jump of 10.9% to 4.05 billion. Those who were already used to buying online before the lockdowns tended to do so even more frequently. Many brick-and-mortar stores were forced to close or, in some cases, had limited access. A number of them have reopened online shops – and are maintaining them as part of a multi-channel strategy. As a result, online retailers were also able to attract many new customers who had never or only rarely shopped online before. Usually, the third quarter is the weakest of the year due to seasonal factors – in 2021, however, according to the Bundesverband E-Commerce und Versandhandel Deutschland e.V. (German E-Commerce and Distance Selling Trade Association), revenues in interactive trade increased significantly from July to October: by 14.3 percent to EUR 22.467 billion. For e-commerce, this was the strongest third quarter in five years.

Consumer behaviour changes permanently

“We assume that consumer behaviour will change permanently as a result of the pandemic and that the volume of parcel shipments will continue to rise,” says André Stein. This is also borne out by a Europe-wide study conducted by the company: 15 percent of those surveyed would like to make their purchases, including groceries, completely or mainly online after the pandemic. Before, it was 10 percent, during the pandemic 33 percent. Forty-eight percent say they plan to shop online more after the pandemic primarily because of the convenience of having items delivered. “That’s why we started 2021 extra early to prepare for peak season at the end of the year and will keep many measures permanent,” Stein said. All teams in the company are drawing on the experience they have built up over the past years and decades – both in terms of planning tours and in terms of the equipment required, building capacities or all operational processes. UPS is constantly expanding its fleet and sometimes leases additional trucks. The service provider’s fleet of brown delivery vehicles is designed for up to 7.5 tons: “We have space and use the space in the vehicles to the last cubic centimetre. “

»We expect that consumer behavior has permanently changed as a result of the pandemic and that the volume of package shipments will continue to increase.«

André Stein, human resources director UPS Germany, Austria and Switzerland

The people on the last meters decide

Ultimately, however, it is the people on the last few metres of the last mile who decide whether the parcels really arrive: Delivery drivers fill one of the most important roles in the supply chain. “In 2021, we are creating 600 additional full-time positions, going from 3,350 of our own parcel delivery staff to 3,950,” says André Stein. “500 of these jobs are to be retained permanently.” As early as January, his teams began training their new colleagues, with around 50 of them training at the company’s own training centre each month, learning all the processes and building up work routines. The company’s sorting department will also be strengthened by around 1,200 part-time workers between October and Christmas, who will help there as well as in the loading and unloading stations. “There is also a clear prospect of permanent employment for these additional Christmas helpers,” adds Stein, “because the parcel market continues to boom.” Nearly 300 men and women also get into delivery vehicles and support the regular drivers. These may also be UPS employees. That’s because on the most intense days in December, UPS employees from other departments within the company jump in and assist with all parts of the package operation, which means sorting, loading, unloading and delivery. To relieve the full-time drivers, employees with company cars get packages loaded into their vehicles and then sometimes take them to remote towns. And UPS recruits relatives and acquaintances from the workforce as helpers: “So it sometimes happens that the father goes on tour with the son to deliver packages,” says André Stein.

Attracting employees with sustainability

In today’s tight job market, it’s not easy to find new employees. UPS is looking for employees via social media and has, among other things, launched a programme in which employees receive a bonus for recommending new colleagues. The topic of sustainability can also be an important argument in attracting employees: “We rely heavily on electric mobility for the last mile. In 2007, we deployed the first e-delivery vehicles and have been converting used diesel vehicles in Germany since 2010. Natural gas-powered vehicles are also part of the fleet,” says Stein. Among other things, 40% of the global UPS fleet is to be powered by alternative fuels and new technologies by 2025. To achieve its ambitious sustainability goals, the company is working with manufacturers and testing new technologies. In this way, practical experience can help in their further development. In Cologne, for example, the company has tested a 7.5-tonne electric vehicle: The converted diesel truck is equipped with the electric drive axle eTransport from the company BPW Bergische Achsen KG. UPS has also already implemented city logistics projects in 30 cities across Germany, where packages are unloaded at a microdepot in city centres and delivered from there by cargo bikes – with and without electric assistance – with zero emissions. “This means we can offer a variety of jobs in parcel delivery as well,” Stein said. “The job as a delivery person in the big brown vehicle means a different daily routine than the one on the cargo bike.”

Create more parking spaces – and keep them free

Whether it’s a 7.5-ton truck or a cargo bike, during peak season it’s all the more important for parcel delivery drivers to be able to get around town, park and unload without hindrance. “We would like to see even more parking spaces for delivery vehicles created and actually kept free,” says André Stein. “But it is also important for us, for example, that our employees can get to work easily by public transport. We can only create jobs if they are also easily accessible – and around the clock if possible. Because for our 24/7 job, we also need 24/7 transport connections.” Parcel service providers are on the job all year round, even on half-holidays like Christmas Eve. December 24 falls on a Friday in 2021. Express shipments with a delivery time of up to 12 noon will still be delivered on this day – after that, Santa Claus, Christkind and Co. will take over.

»We can only create jobs if they are also easily accessible – and preferably 24/7. Because for our 24/7 jobs, we also need 24/7 transport links.«

André Stein, Human Resources Director UPS Germany, Austria and Switzerland

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