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The 'Ugly' Side of Christmas Present: E-commerce and the Parcel Boom

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At the risk of offending those who are tender in years or innocent about the ways of the world, the business of delivering Christmas presents does not rest on the shoulders of a jolly, fat man dressed in red and white and pulled in his sleigh by an eight-strong team of flying reindeer.

Long before Santa and his elves are traditionally expected to be despatching gifts to children who've been nice and not naughty, delivery firms the world over will have been readying themselves for the seasonal surge in parcel traffic.

In fact, preparations will have been underway for months, in anticipation of a rush that should be starting around about now.

It used to be that the start of November saw a spike in parcel shipments as stock was moved from warehouses and suppliers to high street stores in time for shoppers to make their purchases on foot, followed by a second surge at the start of December as the exchange of Dundee cake and cardigans between families and friends criss-crossed the globe.

That all changed with the advent of e-commerce. Last year, for instance, there was a solid month in the run-up to Christmas in which 4.5 million items were shipped every day by British parcel carriers. That figure is expected to increase by some 15 per cent this year too.

The comfort for consumers in shopping where and when they like might be expected to produce a welcome boost for retailers and delivery companies. There is, however, a large and heavy sting in the tail.

It seems that Britons are not just happy buying more goods online for home delivery but are also buying bigger and bulkier articles.

With parcel firms working to their limits, there's an emphasis on processing packages swiftly and without fuss, and objects known in the trade as 'uglies' - those large items which don't sit easily on a conveyor belt - can prove to be something of a headache.

Even out of peak season, they can be time-consuming and awkward to move, both for carriers and retailers. That sentiment becomes even more intense when their numbers increase in peak season and capacity becomes constricted.

Carriers know that they need to ship such packages quickly. Some have even set limits on the overall number of items they're prepared to move in the build-up to Christmas this year because they don't want to disappoint retail clients and consumers.

They want to solve the problem of how to process 'uglies' without either derailing delivery schedules or throwing too much cash at it, something which they can't afford to do in the current economic climate.

Even though internet shoppers may well be unaware of it, throughout this year parcel firms have been applying not just elbow grease but a mix of IQ and IT in order to process the entire range of parcels which they carry more quickly and smarter too.

For example, myself and my colleagues have been working with a number of deliver firms at home and abroad on a system called PostID which can help them move bigger, heavier objects much faster than before.

It represents the unseen and frankly rather unglamorous side of Noel.

However, as you sit down to unwrap your presents on December the 25th, it is perhaps worth considering that maybe it's head-scratching, horsepower and the ability to handle millions of parcels on time and not red noses, elves and sleighs which will provide the real magic of the modern Christmas.