Australia Post has warned of ongoing delivery delays as the postal service, already groaning under lockdown shopping spikes, is now hit by a flood of online sales events and pre-Christmas purchasing.
Ben Franzi, the general manager, parcel and express services at Australia Post, was expecting “the busiest two weeks of the year from an online sales perspective and logistics perspective”.
“It’s ramping up this week with Click Frenzy,” he said. “And then, without a pause, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.” They will take place from 26 to 29 November.
With many consumers still anxious about Covid exposure, Franzi said he was expecting “the biggest online shopping event of all time this Christmas”.
Paul Zahra, the CEO of the Australian Retailers Association, described the online retail surge as a “perfect storm for retailers and consumers” as the Christmas trading period commences on top of Click Frenzy, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
“Online sales have surged in recent months with a record $4.3bn spent online in September, up a massive 42.6% compared to the same time last year,” Zahra said.
“Some distribution centres and warehouses continue to be affected by reduced staffing levels due to Covid cases, we’ve had industrial disputes from delivery drivers and port workers, while state border controls and limited flights are also affecting the movement of goods.
“Around $59bn is forecast to be spent in the pre-Christmas sales,” he said. “This is … up 11.3% compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.”
Click Frenzy, a 53-hour online sale that launched on Tuesday evening, is the first of several major e-commerce sales.
But Franzi said Australia Post had added 45 “new and repurposed operational and retail sites” and hired an additional 4,500 staff members, many of whom had already commenced.
This should increase capacity by 30% and he predicted that, as borders reopened, and with them, domestic flight routes, express delivery times would improve.
“A lot of our deliveries are through passenger flights,” he said.
He said Australia Post’s traffic had doubled during lockdowns.
In early September, e-commerce parcel pickups were suspended for three days in NSW, the ACT and Victoria, and in early October, parcel pick-ups in Melbourne were suspended for five days.
Many have reported delays of more than month for delivery of express parcels.
Franzi said “we’ve learned a lot of lessons” from lockdowns, foremost among them “is trying not to predict Covid”.
He said Australia Post’s biggest pain points during lockdowns came from Covid-19 exposures and subsequent facility closures and that “we’ve learned how to protect our staff better”.
Lisa Villani, the retail and e-commerce manager at premium ceramics manufacturer Mud, said her online sales has spiked by 300% during the recent lockdowns.
“We used to have a standard shipping time of two to three days, but we then saw that go out to three weeks [during lockdowns], and had to divert a lot of resources to the administration and customer service around that.
“We had an influx of calls from customers asking where their products are”.
Franzi warned delays were inevitable, and urged retailers to communicate and set expectations with their customers.
“The advice is definitely shop early,” he said.
Franzi advised using alternative delivery options like parcel lockers, and post office pick-ups, as these services had experienced far fewer delays than home deliveries, and also suggested people track the parcels through the Australia Post app.
Australia Post will soon publish cut-off dates for Christmas deliveries, which consumers and retailers should pay close attention to.
“Be patient, we’re doing our best,” he said.