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Release ID: 517

''Best-yet'' Express Delivery Conference Focuses on Consumer Demands

Last week's UK Express Delivery Conference saw more of the industry's users meeting with more carriers and discussing more delivery-related issues than any previous event. More than 20% of delegates to this, the third annual UK Express Delivery event, were retailers or e-tailers, with major businesses such as Argos, B&Q, Boden, Dell, Lands End, Redcats and Tesco represented.

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Delegates from the major B2C and B2B carriers were also in attendance, including premium sponsors Business Post, CitySprint, Home Delivery Network and Parcelforce. Together with the record number of stands in the exhibition area, the whole event was a combination truly representative of the document, parcel and pallet delivery interests in this country.

Under the umbrella-theme of Growth through More Effective Delivery, speakers from all sectors of the industry focused on the response of carriers to the needs not only of their customers, but also on the increasingly-demanding requirements of the customer's customer the recipients. Better understanding of the consumer was a theme highlighted time and again, notably by Tony Smith of RS Components and Jonathan Smith of Amtrak in their keynote speeches and later by others such as Tim Curtis, Head of Mothercare Direct and by Carole Woodhead, Managing Director of ParcelNet.

Many speakers picked up this topic during the two-day event, with elements such as delivery windows, SMS messaging and reverse logistics referred to by operators and shippers alike. In the session on sustainability and the need to reduce ! the environmental impact of delivery, Professor Michael Browne from the University of Westminster pointed out that customer expectations of service levels are rising inexorably as internet shopping soars. From the audience, Amarjit Singh from Empire Direct questioned more than one operator about the requirement for weekend deliveries. However, according to research results presented by Robin Parr-Davies from organisers Triangle, 75% of e-retailer's websites surveyed made no mention of a Saturday delivery option.

Other sessions during the two days focused on the new solutions provided by technology, the blurring boundary between express and mail and, in a particularly well-attended debate, the importance of distribution agreements. Jo Ritchie, Transport Manager at Screwfix Direct, the UK's largest user of network carriers, stressed that a key factor in Screwfix's significant rise in successful service levels in! the past four years was that they had done so without delivery contracts with any of their carriers! Instead, they had concentrated on developing successful partnerships and a shared customer promise, recognising that all parties (carrier, retailer and consumer) are responsible for successful on-time delivery. Screwfix Direct are now planning to establish more formal agreements, having achieved a relatively high level of success with their partnership approach.

The conference ended with a fascinating Q&A session involving a panel of five of the biggest names in the carrier sector facing a variety of questions from the audience. Amongst the wide range of subjects covered were the importance of driver training (drivers being seen as the ''human face of the retailer''), the low value apparently placed on delivery by retailers in particular, and the inevitability (as the panel unanimously agreed) of further conso! lidation and mergers amongst carriers. Walter Blackwood from Home Delivery Network and Business Post's Guy Buswell each expressed concern about the impact of supermarket grocery delivery on existing business, although Carole Woodhead was keen to stress that these new operations, while clearly competitive in the short-term, would present an opportunity for the established carriers as services evolved.

The huge opportunities offered by the growth in B2C (with e-retail growing by 30-40% per annum, this is forecast to overtake B2B perhaps as soon as 2010) had the 200+ delegates at this year's event buzzing both inside the main conference hall and outside in the exhibition and networking areas. The carriers can as Jonathan Smith and others agreed, they must respond, but it will need better management, better facilities, better IT development and, perhaps most importantly, a greater value placed on their rol! e in the supply chain from retailer to receiver. The 2006 UK Express Delivery Conference clearly exceeded expectations from many points of view, but there is a lot for the operators to consider if they are to meet those of the consumer before next year's event.
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