Strikes and supply chain chaos – How can retailers prepare for the unexpected?

Fergal O’Carroll
5 December, 22

It should come as no surprise that the CWU union’s planned strike action will have had a negative impact on online retail given that Royal Mail is the largest parcel delivery company in the UK. What’s of obvious concern is that the Royal Mail strikes, 19 days of walkouts, single strikes and rolling action, coincided with this year’s peak trading period. This had understandably sparked fear for online retailers and logistic providers throughout the UK. 

The planned strikes impacted staff who collect, sort, distribute and deliver parcels across the UK. The strikes will cover peak mail periods in October and November, including the traditional discount shopping days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 21 dates were affected by Royal Mail strikes in September, October, November and December – with the last day of striking taking place on December 2nd.

Royal Mail delivers to 29 million UK households and accounts for more parcels that all other carriers combined. The main issue for retailers to address is the uncertainty that the strikes will bring for customers, who will still expect their purchases to arrive within agreed timeframes.

When customer orders are delayed, the negative implications for retailers are serious – from reputational damage, to a huge increase in customer support issues, and even the potential for refunds and compensation for delayed and lost items. We know that 41% of customers would not buy again from a retailer who had provided them with a poor delivery service. At the most competitive time of the year for online retailers, no mistakes can afford to be made.

Additional disruptions occurred this year during peak trading season, in addition to the supply chain chaos which has plagued retailers and customers all year. Black Friday is a day marked in the calendar of all online retailers across the UK – In 2021, the UK accounted for over 10 percent of all global Black Friday searches online. Despite the cost of living crisis and the FIFA World Cup match that England will be playing on the same day, Black Friday 2022 was hoping to bring similar traction in this year.

These Royal Mail strikes were a huge cause for concern for many businesses. Many retailers are in the run-up to the busiest time of year. The impact of the strikes underlines the importance of putting contingency plans in place. Over the last two years, events such as COVID-19, Brexit, factory shutdowns, supply chain disruptions and driver shortages have all been reasons for businesses to look at expanding their options and plans – these strikes are another reminder of this. One thing we have learnt in recent times is to not only always expect the unexpected, but to be prepped for the unexpected – and this year was no different.

When a delivery service is unavailable, the ability to quickly add additional carriers, and give your customers alternative delivery options, guarantees the level of service they expect. 

There are several ways to ensure strikes or unexpected activities will be less disruptive to your business. By adding alternative carriers and creating shipping rules that can choose the optimal service, you’re in control and can adapt quickly to change. Having control over how your goods are delivered, and building resilience in your logistics infrastructure, is the best way to reduce the risks. 

The disruption these strikes caused is not yet known for definite –  however adding additional carriers without the unnecessary cost, and additional complexity, is one of the wisest choices an ecommerce company can make. Prevention is better than cure when it comes to ecommerce challenges, particularly at this time of the year, and these strikes should be a reminder of that for retailers moving forward.  

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