24 Mar 2020
ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT, looks at the delivery issues facing small craft businesses…
A brief glance at the Craft Business website highlights the sheer number of fairs and festivals that have been cancelled or postponed following the outbreak of the coronavirus. Footfall into stores of all sizes dwindled to virtually nothing even before the Government eventually announced the closure of all non-essential stores. The only way to reach customers today is through deliveries.
The good news is that the Government has recognised delivery drivers as one of the group of key workers whose children will continue to be cared for at school now the majority have closed, enabling them to carry on working. The vast majority of UK courier services continue to be available; a glance at the ParcelHero site shows a wide variety of next-day, two day, and timed delivery are services still available from a wide selection of couriers. Be aware, however, that some usual service conditions and money back guarantees will not be valid during this period, as couriers battle to adapt to new border closures and coronavirus lockdowns.
Adapting to Changing Conditions
Whether you sell jewellery items, knitwear, arts and crafts products or hobby tools, some of your orders are likely to be of quite a high value, and there is considerable concern for some sellers about proof of delivery in these changing times. From mid-March all couriers and postal services introduced new procedures at the doorstep to replace the usual signature on an electronic pad. There was a brief period when smaller items seemed to be dropped through letter boxes with no proof of delivery at all, but quickly couriers established new routines – although concerningly these have not been standardised as a uniform approach. Most mail companies are now leaving items by front doors if they are too large for the letter box, standing back two metres and confirming delivery when the customer accepts the parcel. Some take a photo of the delivery while others make sure the customer acknowledges receipt before confirming delivery.
As we’ve seen from some of the behaviour in supermarkets, not everyone is behaving honourably in this crisis, so pay close attention to any claims for items that were supposedly never delivered. If this seems to be a pattern with certain customers, you are within your rights to refuse to serve them.
Obviously, if you use the traditional Post Office to mail your items, you may want to choose an alternative to queuing with other people. This is where courier services come in handy. They continue to pick up from domestic addresses, offices and pick up points. If the products are small and light, say under 5kg, and low value, this will unfortunately raise your costs compared to mailing at the Post Office. On the other hand, for larger items over 5kg, couriers may well work out cheaper than the Post Office.
If you sell to international markets, be aware of significant potential changes, for example, many traditional Post Office parcel services to the US were cancelled from March 23rd.
If you run your own website and organise your own deliveries through a favourite courier, don’t forget to keep customers updated on the possibility their orders may be delayed; but reassure them that it’s very much business as usual in terms of your product availability; if you are in a position to do so.
Online Marketplace Fulfilment
If you use Etsy, eBay or Amazon to sell your products, what steps will you need to take to ensure you can continue to get your products to customers, and don’t incur bad feedback for delivery issues largely outside your control? Etsy’s advice to sellers is to make sure you have the time and resources to manage your shop before making commitments to buyers. Communicate with customers about potential shipping delays. If you don’t think your orders will be delivered on time for any reason, let your buyers know and keep them updated with information from shipping carriers.
eBay is informing sellers that it is continuously engaging with carriers and has seller protection measures in place to ensure Seller Performance is not impacted in case of delays or interruptions of postage services. It says accounts were protected from being downgraded from the 20th March Seller performance standard evaluation until the 20th June evaluation.
If you or your staff do fall ill and are unable to fulfil orders, eBay advises you can leave your listings active and manually increase the handling time. Your buyers can still shop with you, but the overall delivery time will be longer and reflected on your listings. For a longer suspension of service, activate the “Out of Stock” option: Once you set the stock of your ‘Good ‘Til Cancelled’ listings to 0, your listings will disappear from eBay searches and you’ll protect your sales history for when you’re ready to start trading again.
Most recently, eBay has offered to suspend fees for business users for 30 days. Doubtless you will see full details in your usual eBay news channels.
Amazon suspended its Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) service used by many small sellers to manage their deliveries until April 5th at the earliest. The service remains open for key products related to the fight against Coronavirus, but that’s not likely to be many craft products. Sellers can either step up the main Prime service if they qualify, or arrange their own delivery fulfilment. A number of couriers, fulfilment companies and other shipping platforms offer varying degrees of integration with the e-commerce giant. FBA suspension is an issue that looks unlikely to be going away soon. So other options may well be worth investigating.
Many thousands of people enjoy hobbies as a little escapism and relief from the pressures of the world around them. With so many people isolated in their own homes, such hobbies become even more important in peoples’ lives. Most small craft traders got into the business not to make a fortune, but because they enjoy their hobbies as much as their customers. So, if you can find a way to keep your products reaching buyers during these unprecedented times, even if it means trying new entirely new ways of doing business, everyone wins.
Information is correct at the time of publication. The ParcelHero UK courier services pages will keep you updated on all available current services, and other services such as ParcelCompare are available.
About David Jinks:
David Jinks MILT is Head of Consumer Research for the online parcel broker ParcelHero. He is lead author of 2030: Death of the High Street, and appears regularly on national radio and in the national press discussing the impact of e-commerce; as well as topics such as the potential consequences of Brexit for exporters, and music festival logistics. He regularly presents masterclasses and webinars for the Department for International Trade’s Exporting is GREAT initiative. David has over 20 years’ experience as a transport journalist, and was Publisher of The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport’s Logistics & Transport Focus magazine.