When do you start preparing for the festive season? When you see the first displays in the stores? When the big retailers release their Christmas advertising campaigns? When the Black Friday promotions arrive in your inbox? Or are you one of the many who leave it as late as possible, then hit the high street in a panic on December 24th? Whether you love or loathe seeing Christmas crackers on display in August, spare a thought for those of us who work in or with the retail logistics industry. At Cognito iQ, we’ve been preparing for Christmas since January so we can support our logistics customers through the seasonal delivery peak.
In 2017, the amount spent on UK online retail sites on Black Friday 2017 was up 11.7 percent to £1.39bn, which was ahead of the original forecast of 9 percent growth for the day. Two million people visited our customer Argos’ Black Friday website in just four hours last year, with over 78.5 million visits in total for the day. That's almost twice the number of tourists who visit the UK every year. This year is expected to be even bigger. Our customer, Hermes, had an incredibly successful peak in 2017, and is expecting an increase in delivery volumes from 1.8 million parcels on their busiest day last year, to more than 2 million this year.
The period of time that can be counted as the peak is expanding and changing too, with up to 40% of peak purchases being returned, the work continues well into the New Year. So, as soon as the rush dies down in mid-January, our peak planning begins.
“Customer engagement is key to peak success. We need to understand the challenge our customers face and work with them closely to meet their requirements. We focus primarily on stability, resilience and performance.”
Phil McArthur, Cognito iQ Product Manager
One of the biggest issues for customers is in scaling up the workforce. They need to hire, on-board, equip and train thousands of temporary staff to manage the increase in delivery volumes. Hermes expects to add around 5,000 temporary staff bringing their workforce to over 25,000. One of the key ways we can support them is by enabling new self-employed drivers to use their own smartphones to access our system, which gets them up and running quickly and without the expense and management overhead of providing thousands of new devices.
Another issue for customers is in ensuring their work force is kept informed. At any other time of year, we typically process around 2,500 real-time messages an hour, providing information to couriers, either from our customers or directly from their trade clients. However, during peak this can increase significantly. As well as messages about individual parcels, customers typically need to send more broadcast messages with reminders, training information or employee engagement information (such as prize draws or other opportunities). We understand the value of information. Our product enables customers to maintain essential communications with employees, at whatever scale. At peak we can expect to handle over 25,000 real time messages an hour.
Overall, the most important thing on our customers’ wish list during peak volume periods is for their service to be stable, reliable and fast. We continually subject all of our products to rigorous resilience and performance testing, and we are always looking to optimise our mobile and platform software throughout the year. Through customer engagement, we know our peak operational scaling targets early on, and we make it our goal to surpass them.
“We take a continuous improvement approach. We start by reviewing the previous year, looking to build on the successes, but also to identify any areas where there is an opportunity to improve. We work with the customer to forecast the uplift that they are expecting, then we create a model and run simulations of the highest-volume day, plus a contingency, through every release of software in the ten months from January to the beginning of the peak.”
Mark Holdsworth, Cognito iQ Product Manager
In line with activities to scale our product services we also scale our Support operation. Cognito iQ prides itself on customer service so we are keen to ensure we have people on hand to deal with requests whenever they arise. We have far reaching monitoring visibility and a first class service support team with the skills and expertise to identify and handle issues quickly.
The peak in numbers: we can expect to handle…
- 35,000 device authentication requests
- 65,000 manifests delivered to mobile devices
- 2.5 million parcels from national hubs to customers’ doors
- 15,000 photos (safe place, proof of delivery)
- 25,000 trade client messages
- This enables our customer to deliver 69 parcels per second at the height of the peak.
However, whilst our products enable us to achieve these numbers, the most important element of a successful peak is not technology, but teamwork. We work closely with our customers at all times, but it is at this time of year that the strength of our relationships come into focus. As we look towards the start of this year’s peak, we hope to emerge in January 2019 with parcels processed, deliveries done, and a renewed sense of camaraderie with our hard-working, committed colleagues and customers alike.