Icy roads and overwhelmed courier networks have cost some online retailers millions and pushed logistics departments to their limits as companies race to make sure Santa is not stuck in a delivery depot on Christmas day.
Companies including John Lewis and Marks and Spencer stopped taking online Christmas orders earlier than planned to ensure they could make deliveries on time.
Heavy snow has kept shoppers away from stores in advance of Christmas, forcing some listed retailers to warn the market of falling sales and pushing more shoppers online. But courier services have struggled to get those deliveries through to areas in rural England and northern Scotland and Wales.
“This is a hugely busy time for online sales. It’s not something you do lightly,” said Dino Rocos, John Lewis’s operations director, of the company’s decision to suspend Christmas orders three days early.
“When we do the numbers, we will see that there was a significant additional cost to managing our way through this,” he said.
Home Delivery Network, one of the couriers John Lewis uses to deliver goods ordered online, suffered unexpectedly severe delays because of snow, and the retailer had to turn to its other contractors to help deliver the group’s 1.2m Christmas packages, Mr Rocos said.
A source close to HDN said a backlog had built up after early December snowfall in Scotland. The company spent an extra £10m on hiring extra staff but had to limit the number of parcels it could commit to delivering.
Russell Lewis, warehouse manager for logistics company Uniserve, said imports could get into the UK but he has a two-week backlog for getting packages out via courier to retailers.
“[The snow] knocks us out for a couple days, and the recovery is slow,” he said. “As you’re trying to recover from the first batch, you’re hit again.”
Saturday’s heavy snowfall throughout the UK had forced many supermarkets to cancel and reschedule deliveries from that day. Online grocer Ocado said jackknifed trucks had obstructed some roads, but the group was able to reschedule the deliveries in time for Christmas.
Even in areas without new snow, backlogs built up by earlier storms have caused problems.
City Link stopped taking new packages for shipment to Scotland on December 16, and on Thursday warned customers to expect delays of up to five days on deliveries to areas including Ashford and Scunthorpe in eastern England.
Deliveries to Belfast were delayed up to two days due to backlogs and icy roads.
“All drivers out but using common sense, extremely treacherous road conditions,” City Link said about Belfast in a report posted on its website.
Tanya Copas, director of Copas Traditional Turkeys, says two employees of the courier service the company uses are working to help track the 2,000 turkeys sent out to customers. Because of snow, staff worked overtime to get the turkeys sent a day early and have been calling up local butchers to arrange replacements for the 3 per cent of customers who have yet to receive their birds.
“We’re trying to think a bit more laterally,” said Ms Copas.