Three ways to prepare your business for the rise in parcel shipping in 2021 and beyond

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A milestone has been reached in global parcel shipping. In 2019, more than 100 billion parcels were shipped globally, with over 3,000 parcels shipped every second in the 13 major global markets. This year’s parcel volume is expected to reach 126 billion with 22.6% year-on-year growth, and by 2026 it’s forecast to reach around 262 billion.

Much of this growth is fueled by e-commerce. Many of us have come to rely on the speed and convenience of online shopping, particularly over the past few months. But research shows that e-commerce firms are not the only businesses to ship more parcels than they used to.

We asked 250 enterprises in the USA about their shipping practices during the first months of the pandemic and found that almost 50% were sending more mail and parcels than previously. Small businesses, too, are sending more. In a separate study, we interviewed 450 SMBs in the UK, the USA and China, to find out how their shipping practices had changed recently.

With employees often working remotely, we found that businesses turned to traditional shipping methods to communicate with remote workers: 61% of respondents in China, a quarter of businesses we spoke to in the US and 24% in the UK had done so. Items that employees would usually collect from the office were shipped to them at home instead, such as office supplies and legal documents.

Back in 2013, the number of parcels shipped in the world’s 13 major markets reached 36 billion. The rate of growth has been phenomenal, with the Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index charting CAGR of 19% from 2013 to 2019. Businesses need to make sure that, operationally, they can manage this rise in parcel volumes.

Systems and processes that businesses had in place six years ago to manage smaller parcel volumes will start to creak under the weight of ever-increasing numbers. Manual processes to manage incoming and outgoing parcels are time-consuming and inefficient, and many businesses just don’t have the space to store large volumes. Businesses must also adapt to changing workplace preferences, such as remote working.

The good news is that, alongside the rise in parcel volumes, the industry is evolving and innovating to solve businesses’ shipping challenges. Here are three ways your business can future-proof its parcel management for 2021 and beyond:

1. Choose technologies that suit a growing remote workforce
Nine out of 10 employees who worked from home during the pandemic want to continue doing so even when the initial threat has passed, according to one study. This is prompting organizations to rethink their business-critical processes. Earlier in the year, it took some time for businesses to identify how to continue certain business processes away from the workplace. Sending was one of these processes. While workers could head to their local post office to weigh and send items, many people were anxious about leaving the house. Our SMB poll found 40% of UK businesses questioned said anxiety about leaving the house impacted their parcel shipping.

Technologies such as cloud-based sending platforms enable shipping and mailing to continue just as effectively from home as in a traditional workplace. Accessible via home wi-fi from mobile or desktop, they make it easy for employees to evaluate delivery times and costs through a user-friendly portal.

2. Use analytics to give you insight
Our study of SMBs in the USA, China and the UK found a real concern about a lack of visibility into parcel sending while employees were working; 55% of Chinese businesses, 27% of UK respondents and a quarter of US SMBs found it challenging not knowing how much their employees were sending while they were working away from the office.

More than a third (34%) of SMBs we spoke to in the UK were challenged by being unsure how much it would cost to send items, rising to 37% for respondents in the USA and 51% for those in China. These small businesses were also concerned by their lack of insight into whether or not the parcels they sent had been delivered.

Cost control is very difficult without clear insight into practices and behaviors. Not knowing whether your customer’s parcel has arrived leaves you susceptible to repeat delivery cost and even fraud. Tools which provide analytics for clear visibility into expenditure across different locations eliminate the ‘not knowing’, while tracking and delivery notifications help you avoid lost or delayed parcel claims.

Analytics can give you a view of your shipping spend and activity across every site, even when you have multiple employees working from home. Clear, simple-to-use dashboards can bring together the information you need to help you drive forecasting, allocate budgets and make savings.

3. Stay up-to-date on new services
Most small businesses are loyal to one carrier. Our poll found that Royal Mail is by far the most used shipping carrier among UK small businesses, with 67% of all SMBs we spoke to using them every time or most of the time. It’s worth remembering that you can gain added value from looking into different services your carrier provides. Just as you switch mobile tariffs to get a good deal, looking into other services could generate considerable savings and offer you improved services. Carriers and their partners regularly update the services they offer and the discounts they provide, whether you need next-day delivery, tracked returns or high-volume discounts.

The past few months have seen the acceleration of new services which offer convenience, save time and drive value such as the new parcel collection service from Royal Mail. Services such as Delivery Confirmation provide peace-of-mind, minimize costs from fraudulent claims and reduce pressure on customer contact teams as recipients are kept fully informed of a parcel’s status. Ask your account manager or check social media feeds to stay up-to-date.

As fast as parcel numbers are rising, carriers, logistics firms and technology companies are responding with innovative new services and solutions. Ultimately, this will drive value for organizations managing high parcel volumes, hopefully making life easier for businesses in 2021 after a challenging 2020.

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