It’s been the case in my weekly columns that I try to look at a topical issue from a different perspective; to look at the bigger picture, as it were. But I thought I’d break with that tradition this week.
This year has been eDelivery’s first full calendar year in operation – we launched just in time for peak 2014 – and I think it’s fair to say that for all of us who work on the title, it’s been a great year. We ran our first ever event, eDelivery Expo (EDX) at the Birmingham NEC in March, and our first ever conference in London took place in October. EDX will be taking place on 27 & 28 April in 2016, at the same venue, and we’ll update you on the event in the new year, outlining what to expect and some of the speakers we have confirmed.
The year started out under the shadow of the collapse of City Link and the many difficulties caused to retailers and carriers alike by the unexpected size of the public’s appetite for Black Friday. There was a lot of hand-wringing and an air of we’re doomed among some of the conversations I was having with people back in the earliest days of 2015.
Click-and-collect was said to have saved the (Christmas) day last year. This year – so far – nothing calamitous has befallen the sector. Everyone is exceedingly busy, some delivery promises haven’t been kept, and some retailers’ websites have struggled at times, but there’s been no systemic failure.
Lessons were learned from last year, and action was taken. It would be impossible to highlight one hero development in retail deliveries, but there have been a number of important incremental improvements that, cumulatively, have added up to more than the sum of their parts. Whether that’s retailers’ spreading out their peak promotions (start early, finish late), or not bothering with Black Friday at all (Asda being the most obvious example). It might be the increasing availability of alternative delivery and collection offers (Collect+ may have blazed the trail, but from Doddle to CornerDrop there’s a growing list of options that are now taken for granted as reliable and, in many cases, expected).
Of course, there have too been significant investments made across 2015. From Yodel spending £30m on improving its network, to DPD’s £100m superhub, all of which adds capacity and eases pinch-points. Let’s not forget Yodel’s decision to cap the volume of next-day Black Friday parcels it would accept. It was a bold move, and given the way Yodel has handled peak 2015, maybe it paid off.
Drones, of course, don’t feature in the list of things that happened in 2015. Personally, I don’t expect them to appear in 2016 either – not in a big way, not in public-facing way. There was much speculation at the end of 2014 and into the start of this year on the appearance of an Uber-for-delivery service, but that hasn’t materialised in the way people expected it would.
It (by which I mean the Uber model) is here though. Based on the sharing economy outlook of ‘what have I got that I’m not using which I could start making some money out of?’ we’ve seen Argos build an enviable same-day delivery service on the back of its re-engineered logistics model, and Asda become a parcel service by making the most of spare capacity in its vehicle fleet and storage facilities.
It would be ridiculous to attempt to predict what 2016 might be dominated by. But it’s pretty easy to speculate that Amazon will have a hand in it. The rumour-mill would have us believe Amazon is about to start forcing retailers to ditch carriers left, right and centre, and to use Amazon Logistics instead – if they want to sell via Prime, that is.
There are plenty of reasons to laugh that idea off. This is your standard channel conflict scenario – Amazon wants to displace intermediaries (carriers) that are taking margin from business it would like for itself, yet it needs those carries to service less profitable delivery business while it hoovers up all the good stuff. Retailers mightn’t feel too well disposed to having to deal with yet another carrier, nor to effectively being bullied to make strategic decisions by Amazon.
But don’t laugh too heartily; Amazon is the great disruptor success story of all time. It went from selling books to competing against books. It may take time, but if Amazon wants to be the de facto delivery company in retail don’t expect any of the traditional barriers to entry to put up much of a fight.
We could be in for an interesting 12 months, or more. Certainly more.
And so in this, my final 2015 column, I’d like to thank you for your support, whether as a reader, a contributor, or a sponsor of eDelivery. If we haven’t spoken and you have ideas you’d like to share, perhaps one of your 2016 New Year’s Resolutions should be to drop me an email and say hello. The same goes if we have already spoken.
Don’t forget, if you haven’t subscribed to eDelivery yet we’d love it if you did. You’ll get a weekly newsletter summarising the main stories we’ve covered, and we’ll keep you informed of other big announcements. You’ll find details on subscribing here.
Until then, I wish you the very best for the Christmas and New Year period.