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Home delivery adapts to the pandemic

30 June 2020

Charlie Shiels, CEO, ArrowXL outlines how the business landscape has changed amidst the pandemic and what it’s going to look like going forward.

Looking back to the start of lockdown, what were the initial pressures and were you prepared for a pandemic like this as a company?

The beginning of lockdown seems like so long ago, and of course we weren’t prepared – no-one was! The first week or so of lockdown was spent trying to figure out how to respond to the requirements of social distancing and the Covid-19 pandemic requirements such as colleague shielding, having the right PPE, increased hygiene and ensuring employee well-being etc. This was whilst we balanced an increase in goods flowing through our network. In fact, the volume growth, (currently 30%+ on the same period in 2019), wasn’t expected and it did surprise us initially.

Was there panic in the market and did it affect you?

In addition to our usual volume flows we had an abundance of white goods, (fridges/freezers), as consumers acquired capacity for panic bought food. This was closely followed by huge amounts, (and I mean huge amounts) of exercise equipment as gyms were closed. As more and more people started to work from home, we saw an increase in home office furniture being bought and then of course stuff to keep kids occupied in the garden! In recent weeks with the good weather, consumers have continued to invest in their gardens with new furniture as I suspect very few are going on holiday.

How significant has the pressure to adapt been as a company?
We have probably changed, altered and amended an awful lot of our processes. Where possible people have worked from home but staying in touch via Zoom and other platforms. On the frontline, we practice social distancing, no contact deliveries which we have communicated with our customers – in fact every touch point has changed in some way or another.

To keep up with increased demand we have recruited a large number of new colleagues and are constantly reviewing how we do what we do. My team have reacted magnificently. We have continued on-boarding new clients and have a backlog of great companies wanting to come and join us.

What impact has the pandemic had on customer demands and the customer experience?

ArrowXL are old hands at this and have been delivering to consumers for many years. We are a sophisticated logistics operation and understand what is required to deliver great customer experience. I am not sure this change can or will drive increased customer expectation as it was already sky high. The Home Delivery sector is assessed by its own very high historical performance. However, it only takes one error, mistake or poor experience and we get held to account, often in the gaze of Social Media which is the new reality and we understand and accept this.

The modern home delivery consumer is demanding, knows what great looks like, expects amazing as the norm and will not settle for less. The impact for us of sustained volume growth will be our capacities. It will require investment not just in bricks and mortar, but people, training and more advanced technology. Lots of industries remain massively impacted by Covid-19 and will not be back to normal for some time and it’s clear there are economic/industry winners and losers. Our sector appears to be on the right side and I am proud that ArrowXL has so far weathered the storm and is able to continue to safeguard jobs. We do however need to remain vigilant and maintain the good disciplines we have been working with since day one of the crisis as a second Covid-19 flare up is a real risk. 

As an employer, how far are you into the process of understanding the ‘new normal’ and what that will look like?

What does the future look like for our industry? That’s the million-dollar question that we are all, (no doubt) wrestling with! Our Executive team is planning ahead and trying to understand what normality will look like. We are thinking about Autumn, back to school and even Black Friday is on our minds. At the moment we are continuing to win new work which will be important for us once Covid-19 volumes eventually drop off.

The educated view seems to be a Covid-19 impact increase in base volumes. The logic being that many new consumers have enjoyed the home delivery experience and are comfortable with it. Will consumers want to join thousands of others queuing to get in congested shopping centres/shops, getting their temperature taken, following floor arrows and risking infection? Doesn’t sound like much fun to me. I believe that the high street will take a long time to recover (if ever) and so the spotlight remains on the home delivery sector.