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It is an unrealistic consumer expectation, not poor performance from parcel carriers, that has led to a report suggesting a third of peak-time parcels are delivered at the wrong time, according to a market expert.

The report by Which?, published today, says that of 2,000 consumers surveyed, only a third received their parcels when they expected them.

But Frank Proud, director at market analyst Apex Insight, told MT that “it simply isn’t the case that large proportions of deliveries are late”.

Instead, he suggested that consumers were not receiving their parcels when they expected them because their expectations were misplaced in the first place.

He said: “Many carriers “change their delivery commitments and some premium or faster services are withdrawn, so they are not making promises they can't keep.

“Hence I’m not sure what Which? means by 'expect'. Is it actually a realistic expectation based on what the retailer has promised?  It sounds like it isn't.”

DPD’s director of customer experience Sinead Croke told MT that the next-day operator had faced issues with snow last week, but that the situation described by the Which? report was not its experience of peak performance.

She said: “Our first time delivery rates have remained high throughout, despite bad weather and the high volumes we saw over the Black Friday period. I think the network has performed really well and our drivers have done an incredible job.

“We did have some very localised issues with the snow the other week – there were some depots where it was so bad, drivers physically couldn’t get into work or it wasn’t safe to take the vans out on certain routes - but our tech meant we were able to communicate any specific delays, directly with the customers impacted.”

Proud said that while the report by Which? was negative in sentiment and peak is still a challenge for the UK – “the UK market has more of a Christmas peak than any other in the world with delivery volumes typically doubling for B2C customers” – the industry “has managed peak a lot better in the last couple of years”.

This, he said, “is because everyone has got more realistic.  Retailers have got better at forecasting their own sales and communicating expectations to carriers.

"Retailers have also got more sensible about Black Friday and have spread out the promotions over a longer period.  And, with Hermes having put in a big new hub this April, there is more delivery capacity in the system than before to cope with this peak.”

Some of the consumers surveyed by Which? complained that their parcels had been delivered earlier than expected, which Proud conceded is something that happens and can be an inconvenience to end customers.

“Many carriers just deliver things as soon as possible so you will often get a 2-3 day service arriving next day.  The assumption is that the customer doesn't mind.  Most will probably be pleased but the odd one won't be happy if they are out that day, for example,” he said.

CitySprint CEO Patrick Gallagher said that the figures from the Which? survey were disappointing, and that retailers should be careful not to over promise at peak in order to meet customer expectations.

He told MT: “Peak season is not just the busiest time of year for retail deliveries, it’s also the period when any broken fulfilment promises can do lasting damage to a retailer’s brand.

“It’s essential that retailers and their logistics partners get things right when the pressure is on, which is why some of these figures from Which? are disappointing.”