Emergency situation brings relative boom to parcel delivery companies

An Itella SmartPOST package terminal.
An Itella SmartPOST package terminal. Source: Martin Dremljuga/ERR

The emergency situation imposed by the Estonian government in response to the coronavirus pandemic has seen delivery volumes at three of Estonia's major delivery firms remain buoyant, or even risen close to pre-Christmas levels, though the make-up of deliveries has changed.

Domestic volumes have risen, though international deliveries both to and from Estonia have taken a hit compared with prior to the crisis and also compared with the same period in 2019.

Other considerations include a rise in contactless deliveries in line with the emergency situation regulations and recommendations, with more people being at home to take delivery of their parcels.

Omniva: Almost at Christmas levels

Mattias Kaiv, communications manager at state-owned Omniva, says while the Christmas levels of demand are not quite there, with growing use this may not be far off.

"Compared with the month before the third week of February (when the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Estonia-ed.), our total domestic parcel volume in Estonia has increased by a third. If we look at just parcel machine parcels (which is also the most in-demand and recommended channel), demand has increased by almost half, or 42 per cent," Kaiv said.

Ominva's domestic parcel business is largely driven by e-commerce, I.e. business to consumer goods, though to some extent parcels between private individuals can also be seen, the company says, including in smaller population centers.

"We have also seen a huge increase in the popularity of many rural parcel machines lately," Kaiv added.

All volumes growing at Itella

Itella SmartPOST says its parcel machines have also been in increasing use recently.

"Comparing the first three weeks of February with March, our March parcel volume has increased by 15 percent. March is not over yet, so it is too early to compare February as a whole to March this year," said Rauno Parras, Itella Estonia's Director of Parcel Services.

Itella, too, had not quite reached festive season levels.

"Current parcel volumes are comparable to November last year. There is still a bit to go to the real December volumes," said Parras. 

On year, the company had seen 20 percent growth in parcel sending for the first three weeks of March.

Self-service environment use via the company's website has become particularly popular, the company said, helping to reduce the time spent in contact with the parcel terminal.

Itella is seeing its fastest growing coming in its share of international parcels compared with previous years, Parras went on.

"Domestic parcel delivery from businesses is growing at a very decent pace, with a slightly slower but steady increase in parcel delivery from private individual to private individual. The international parcel volumes we serve mainly come from EU countries," Parras."

DPD seeing 'normal' growth

Head of DPD Estonia Remo Kirss said there was nothing special in his company's parcel volumes at present – spring generally sees a rise – but demands for its courier service, driven by demand for conveying home items, car tires and even gardening tools, is growing.

"Volume growth is on track," he said, though noting that the proportions of volume distribution have changed.

Most parcels are domestic ones with the fastest-growing number of transactions between private individuals; both categories have grown in proportion compared with this time of year usually, at the expense of shipments to Western Europe and Scandinavia, which have been declining, Kirss said. Businesses are still sending parcels, though some companies have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and its effects and are sending smaller volumes.

"Business customer shipments are growing moderately compared with last month. This is a positive sign that not all of them have disappeared. The current situation has hit many sectors unexpectedly and severely, and so we have lost volumes from some customers."

E-commerce has become the only survival option for many businesses, and is also highly valued by private individuals.

Contactless home delivery at record levels

Parcel terminals in Estonia, as well as Latvia and Lithuania, are currently under heavy demand loads, but contactless home delivery is at a record level, DPD's Remo Kirss said. This fluctuated, however.

"This has led to a situation where DPD's volumes are at a planned level, actually somewhat higher, but day-to-day volumes are much more volatile," says Kirss. 

"There are days that in no way fall short of the run up to Christmas. Frankly, however, the mood is different, because at Christmas it's about gifts, not because of the extraordinary situation."

To manage volumes, DPD says it has recruited additional couriers who can deliver packages entirely without contact. 

Kirss was not taking anything for granted, however, noting that in an unpredictable situation, a sudden and sudden drop in the demand may also occur.

"It is likely that there will be a significant, and possibly a rapid, decline in the total volume of courier items," he said.

Delays happening

Omniva's Mattias Kaiv said that the emergency situation was nonetheless causing delays.

"Due to the  force majeure  situation and the instability of air connections, export of shipments to most countries is taking longer than usual. We are working on finding alternative options, including replacing air links with road transport, but at present we have to bank on longer delivery times."

DPD says it also struggles with deadlines, but is pleased that it is now easier to provide courier services, simply because in the emergency situation, people are more likely to be home.

"In general, delivery arrangements have kept things on track, although there have been some delays as usual. There have been difficult days where there has been a lack of working hands and there have been delays in deliveries," says Kirss.

There are many companies, institutions or even regions of Europe where restrictions on delivery directly also affect the time of shipment.

The sector has become very congested internationally due to fast and constantly changing circumstances - at times there is stagnation due to flights, then a logistics center is flooded again. This can lead to longer delivery times for the customer, both when sending parcels and awaiting them in Estonia.

"Due to the introduction of border controls between different countries, international shipping schedules have become disorderly, that nowadays a very large number of international parcels can arrive overnight. This disruption puts pressure on our courier network, causing occasional delivery delays," admits Parras.

Customers themselves are also holding things up at the package terminals, Rauno Parras said.

"Customer are picking up their packages more slowly in than new circumstances than before," he said, urging customers to free up the parcel locker as soon as their parcel arrives.

Foreign markets in decline

Omniva said the crisis had seen a severe downturn in its European market sector.

"Looking at packages from Europe, volumes have fallen by some 50 percent at times, but the steep decline is also due to reduced air traffic, which has significantly increased the delivery times of recent parcels," Mattias Kaiv said.

The volume of packages shipped from Estonia has decreased by approximately 20 percent compared to the previous year, he added.

Fall in deliveries from China

Comparing March this year's parcel volumes with the same period last year, Omniva has seen a 35 percent fall in parcels from China, though this could pick up.

"All recent trends show that China is recovering from the pandemic, and its e-commerce, including trans-border, is gaining momentum, meaning that this effect and its attendant package volume will soon reach Estoni," Mattias Kaiv said, noting that in general, at least the parcel business with most countries has not ground to a halt.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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