Interview

Interview – Planning for peak with Stephanie Dexter of UPS

In the latest of our planning for peak interviews, it’s the turn of Stephanie Dexter, director of operations at UPS, to reveal how the company prepares for peak. 

What steps do you take to ensure you are ready for peak period when it comes to home delivery?

Peak represents both a sizable opportunity and a considerable challenge for retailers and logistics providers alike. During the 2016 peak season 69% of UK consumers bought online, according to a snap poll conducted by UPS, and UPS delivered 712 million packages globally, up from 612 million in 2015.

Moreover, globally UPS delivered a record 36 million packages on a single day – 22nd December – more than twice the normal average. This substantial uplift in deliveries can place a strain on even the most resilient logistics set-up. UPS has taken a number of steps to ensure we are ready to meet the rising demand each season and help retailers exceed their customers’ expectations.

Every peak, UPS hires seasonal helpers globally to manage the increase in package volume being shipped. We also take a long-term view to preparing for peak seasons to come. UPS continues to invest in infrastructure in Europe, with one of the largest projects here in the UK. Our newest distribution facility at London Gateway will open this autumn and will provide additional capacity, particularly for busy periods.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all is collaborating closely with retailers to ensure that the customer journey is a positive experience. We start working with our customers as early as possible to help them plan for the peak season, map any challenges that lie ahead and ensure their customers’ needs are met.

When does home delivery peak period planning begin?

Planning for peak is a year-round focus at UPS. In addition to the investments we are making at London Gateway to support increased volumes of packages, we have introduced alternative delivery solutions that meet both retailer and shopper needs – especially during the busy peak period.

For example, MyChoiceTM offers consumers the flexibility to decide when and where they receive their deliveries – it allows them to reroute packages to another address or reschedule a delivery to a more convenient time via an online portal. Meanwhile, UPS Access Point TM lets shoppers collect their package from a location of their choice, such as a convenience store, petrol station or newsagent.

What are the main lessons learnt from 2016?

Growing package volumes coincide with rising customer expectations of swift, stress-free deliveries; with same day and next day delivery increasingly in demand. And, as delivery standards improve, shoppers experience greater disappointment if things do go wrong and have stronger voices than ever before to complain.

According to figures from the Institute of Customer Service, over 50% of consumers in the UK that experienced a delivery issue post negatively about it on social media. This means it is more important than ever for retailers and logistics providers to prepare thoroughly for Peak, ensure they have the processes in place to facilitate large volumes of orders and be able to pre-empt and prevent issues before they occur.

This means it is more important than ever for retailers and logistics providers to prepare thoroughly for peak, ensure they have the processes in place to facilitate large volumes of orders and be able to pre-empt and prevent issues before they occur.

What are the definite not to dos during this period?

It’s essential that businesses plan ahead as much as possible and work to ensure that the customer journey year-round, but especially throughout peak, is a positive one. In particularly, transparency with your customers about delivery times is key. Setting realistic expectations allows customers to plan for the delivery of important packages such as gifts, if they need parcels to arrive on a certain day.

Customers also expect flexibility with ecommerce deliveries – it’s becoming increasingly important to offer a variety of services to help packages reach recipients.

How do you decide between the balance of later cut-off dates and possible customer disappointment when it comes to home delivery at peak?

Transparency is key. Ensure that cut off and delivery by dates are stated clearly, so your customer understands when he/she will receive their goods. Also look at providing alternative delivery options for your customers – UPS offers delivery to UPS Access PointTM locations, such as newsagents and petrol stations, allowing customers to collect their packages at a time and place that is convenient to them, without having to wait at home for a delivery.

Is it better to under promise but overdeliver or to be honest?

As the phrase goes, honesty is the best policy. Customers appreciate realistic assessments of when and how their package is set to arrive, so they can plan ahead. Clearly detailing delivery times and allowing customers to track their package provides the transparency that customers need and reduces the risk of them venting their frustrations online if there is a delay.

How is mobile’s continued growth affecting peak planning for home delivery?

In addition to the consistent growth in mobile shopping, mobile offers a valuable channel to communicate with customers. For example, UPS MyChoiceTM helps customers decide when, how, and where to get home deliveries, and sends progress and estimated arrival alerts straight to mobile devices.

How do events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday affect peak planning – does it make it easier or harder and what’s the balance of home delivery for such peaks?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday can mean a substantial spike in sales for just one day – which makes planning and managing delivery volumes a significant challenge. To mitigate this, a lot of retailers have started to spread the discounts they offer over a longer period – such as a week – offering more time to process orders and prepare deliveries.

What trends are we likely to see this year and how or what should businesses be doing to be prepared to combat these?

The weakened pound has driven demand for UK products up, and online retailers can take advantage of this to attract new overseas customers and grow internationally. First impressions matter and businesses that impress shoppers with a smooth online experience will succeed.

Make overseas shoppers feel welcome by offering them the opportunity to pay in their local currency and browse in their own language, and provide click-and-collect options. Prepare ahead to ensure that goods can be sent easily without being stopped in customs due to incorrect paperwork.

Online shopping will continue to grow in 2017, and in light of this, retailers should ensure their websites can handle the demands of busy shopping periods. Retailers that work closely with their logistics providers to plan ahead for peak will reap the rewards.

Stephanie Dexter, director of operations at UPS

Image credit: Fotolia and UPS