Analysis

Coronavirus forces change in driver doorstep etiquette as online deliveries ramp up

Royal mail

A number of UK retailers and delivery companies have announced new rules for how couriers behave on the doorstep as the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic grows in severity.

Despite the UK government only telling people who show symptoms to stay at home, many citizens are changing their behaviour to avoid travelling, including to stores.

According to London’s transport authority TfL, aversion to travelling has quickly increased since the week of 2 March, with the last week commencing on 9 March seeing a reduction of 19% in tube journeys and 10% in bus travel. In retail terms, Ipsos Retail Performance figures found that footfall in stores had fallen 12.7% year-on-year on 5 March.

This trend is not necessarily translating to food shopping, where supermarkets are being overwhelmed by panic buying. In an open letter published in national newspapers on Sunday and Monday, supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Lidl asked customers to be “considerate” of other customers and not buy more than they need.

Other customers are turning to home delivery. With citizens increasingly squeamish about personal contact, couriers are being given new instructions for the doorstep that aim to reduce the spread of the disease, protect staff and reassure customers.

Grocery retailers that sell online, such as Morrisons, as well as online-only grocer Ocado, have been reporting a surge in demand. In Italy, one of the countries with the most severe outbreaks, Carrefour has asked customers who are not in risk groups such as the elderly to not use the online service.

Beginning Friday 13 March, Morrisons said it was “essential” that customers inform them if they are self-isolating via the “delivery instructions” section of their accounts so that drivers could take necessary precautions.

Drivers will place orders on customers’ doorsteps and contact them via telephone to tell them it’s there. They will also be instructed not to enter customer homes or take carrier bags from them.

Ocado is pursuing a similar policy, saying they will knock on doors ad place the bags on the doorstep to be taken inside. They will no longer carry them into the home or hand them over directly. It also said that due to excessive demand it had shut down its app.

It is not just grocery companies that are looking to minimise the amount of contact they are having with customers. Royal Mail will no longer be handing over hand-held devices to allow customers to sign for items, instead simply taking their names.

For items that won’t fit through the letterbox, Royal Mail couriers will place the item on the doorstep, knock and wait while the customer retrieves it rather than handing it over.

These changes, for the time being, are relatively minor and cosmetic. But with no quick end to the crisis in sight, there may be more fundamental changes that companies have to make in the final mile.

Read more: Coronavirus exposes vulnerabilities in “gig economy” model 

Image credit: Royal Mail