Editor's Comment

Doddle warming up, Napoleon catching a cold, and 100,000 warehouse staff desperately sought

Where’s everybody gone? There’s a shortfall of 60,000 lorry drivers in the UK and the retail warehouse sector needs something in the region of an extra 100,000 people to get through peak.

In about four weeks time that’s likely to be a bit of a problem – or at any rate it’ll be about to become one. Because one place where it’s unlikely there’ll be a shortage of people is on the business end of a phone, tablet, laptop or PC, buying stuff hand over fist.

Last year Andrew Starkey of IMRG referred to a retail tsunami having hit the sector; I’m not sure where that metaphor goes next if his predictions of online shoppers spending £1bn on 27 November are correct. Where the parcels go is more likely to be the most pressing matter, never mind the metaphors.

One of the fundamental and inescapable challenges facing the delivery business in times of extraordinary busyness has yet to be fully acknowledged, in my opinion, as we find ourselves only four weeks from the busiest shopping day of the year.

While the ecommerce world has ploughed colossal sums of money into attracting customers and making it easy for them to buy, we have an out of balance equation – an infinite, and ever-expanding, number of opportunities to shop cannot be balanced by a very fixed and finite number of people to pack boxes, drive lorries and vans, amount of roads, number of warehouses, and so on.

It’s like connecting a fire hydrant up to a hose with the diameter of a drinking straw; you just know something is going to go wrong.

The advent, and growth, of new service providers will go some way to soaking up the mess. Doddle is one such business, and I interviewed its founder and CEO Tim Robinson to hear about the genesis of Doddle, and how he sees the future unfolding.

Having experienced month-on-month growth of 50%, Doddle has been stress-testing its systems to be ready for the peak, in some cases testing itself against the fallout from a 600% growth in volume.

Can lessons be learned from past experience? It might be interesting to assess how things fare this year in the light of some of what took place last year. And as an aide memoir, we have a re-run of a feature written by our executive editor, Emma Herrod, from January looking at peak 2014 and the extent to which click-and-collect may have saved the day.

Who else might we be able to learn from? Well, I’m glad you asked. How about Napoleon Bonaparte..? There’s someone who knew all about expansion, conflict, and overcoming challenges. But he also knew the importance of having a logistics network that could fully support your operations while expanding. Sadly, for him at least, he learned that lesson the hard way, having found himself at the head of an army thousands of miles from support, supplies, and succour, just as the harsh Russian winter set in.

Every day’s a school day.

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