As it launches a new depot in Hertfordshire, delivery company Hermes is preparing for a peak season which may see it handling 11 million parcels in a week and a half.
According to Jon Ormond, director of hub and depot operations, the company expects to see an “almost literal” doubling of its normal volumes during the peak period following Black Friday.
On an average day, Ormond says, the company handles one million parcels, but from the Monday following Black Friday onwards this rises to 1.9 or two million. Interestingly, the company doesn’t necessarily see a huge spike on the Friday itself.
An important part of preparations for the peak season is the launch of the new facility at Prologis Park in Hemel Hempstead, which according to Ormond will handle 10 percent of the company’s parcels. The depot is equivalent in size to 11 football pitches and can process more than 130,000 parcels each day for distribution across London and the Midlands.
Ormond says that the new site was about offering faster growth, with the choice of Hemel Hempstead owing much to the area’s sustainability efforts. Prologis Park, where the depot is sited, offers energy-efficient and solar-powered facilities.
Planning for the “pretty incredible volumes” of peak is a year-long activity, says Ormond, with planning beginning when the current peak is finishing. To meet demand involves adding 600 trailers to the existing 1048 sites, 200 tractor units and 250 rigid vehicles to the fleet, as well as 3000 couriers and 2000 same day vans for the final mile.
The company needs to build in enough flexibility to deal with the spike in demand, but Ormond says much of what is built is collapsible afterwards.
While equipment can be made collapsible, however, the company also has to take account of workers.
A report by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in February of this year found that providing courier services was the most common occupation of people working within the gig economy – in fact, 42 percent of those involved in the gig economy had carried out courier services in the prior twelve months.
While Hermes has recently launched an app which can run on a courier’s own Android or Apple device, the company is steering clear of the Deliveroo hiring model which keeps barriers to entry as low as possible.
“We don’t lower our standards to go to a bigger pool,” says Ormond. “We have quite a rigorous test, which does make it a little tough.”
Delivery drivers are all assessed between hub and depot and are inducted in etiquette and how to present themselves to clients and customers. This is crucial considering that as a major touch point between retailers and their customers,
Hermes has to consider not only its own brand but how it reflects on the retailer. Ormond points out that many retailers now offer a choice of delivery options, meaning that a poor customer experience or unreliability could be punished by consumers.
Looking ahead over the next three years, Ormond says that the digitalisation not just of the consumer journey but of operations will continue apace. The aim here can be summed up simply as more agility – the ability to use automation to divert deliveries earlier or later within the logistics chain.
But for now, there is peak season 2018 to prepare for.