Online Christmas shopper

The Association of Pallet Networks (APN) said its members had "robust continuity plans" and appropriate safety measures in place to continue deliveries during the country’s second lockdown.

Its move to reassure the marketplace came as research from Whistl showed that nearly half of Christmas shoppers (46%) are aiming to increase their online spending activities during the festive season and up to 44% of fashion sales will switch to online.

APN said pallet network distribution workers included warehouse staff and drivers and all would be classed as essential key workers and could therefore continue travelling for work.

APN chairman Paul Sanders said its eight member networks quickly adapted to new working arrangements in March and these procedures had remained in place.

And he said the introduction of safety protocols were not only an excellent precaution against any kind of infection, but had also led to efficiency gains too:

“For instance, the inclusion of the customer’s own paperwork in the documents pouch on the prepared pallet is more efficient for the customer, the end user and the company delivering the pallet,” he said. “Given that member networks provide substantial tracking and electronic proof of delivery information online anyway, this seems like a sensible evolution.”

Sanders added: “Our pallet networks will have a stiff challenge ahead of them because record volumes are combining with the Christmas peak and lockdown.

“That’s not an easy scenario.

“However, the sector has proved beyond any doubt that it has the skills, the resilience and the operational protocols to rise to this challenge.”

Whistl said that as well as Christmas, other key trading dates were likely to see significant rises in online spend, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Melanie Darvall, Whistl marketing director, said: “The retail landscape in the UK is continuing to change driven by the ongoing trend to shop online, accelerating this year by the Covid pandemic.”

Springboard, a provider of retail intelligence, said its forecast showed that footfall across all UK destinations will be down 62% between 22 November and 26 December.

It added that Christmas 2020 would be a challenge for the retail industry as 63.5% of shoppers intended to spend less than in 2019.