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In person: Rise in e-commerce leads to 'an absolute tsunami of parcels' - Des Travers, Chief Executive DPD Ireland

DPD is taking on more drivers to meet the surge in demand

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Opportunity knocks: Des Travers, pictured with DPD drivers Francis Bradley and Tom Searle, says the firm has been ‘swamped’ with demand. Photo: Paul Sherwood

Opportunity knocks: Des Travers, pictured with DPD drivers Francis Bradley and Tom Searle, says the firm has been ‘swamped’ with demand. Photo: Paul Sherwood

Opportunity knocks: Des Travers, pictured with DPD drivers Francis Bradley and Tom Searle, says the firm has been ‘swamped’ with demand. Photo: Paul Sherwood

For some people the sound of a doorbell or buzzer brings a new excitement in the current world we find ourselves inhabiting.

It means the latest gadget or garment has arrived. The purchase may have been online, but delivery takes place in the real world and couriers and delivery drivers are suddenly ubiquitous.

Initially, Des Travers, CEO of DPD Ireland, the largest courier company in the country, thought Covid-19 would have a negative impact on his company.

"We got it completely wrong," he says.

The surge in demand for online shopping since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Ireland has seen volumes of parcels being delivered shoot up by about 10pc, higher even than the busiest periods for online shopping - Black Friday and Christmas. Consumers have little option but to buy what they need online as long as physical shops remain closed.

Now, Mr Travers expects business to increase even when the lockdown loosens.

"As the Government relax the Covid restrictions on different businesses, we'll see more volume coming through," the Glaswegian says.

Before the global pandemic DPD's work was almost evenly split between business to business (B2B) deliveries - about 46pc - and business to consumer (B2C), which accounted for around 54pc of its deliveries.

The pandemic, which has seen thousands of shops temporarily pull down the shutters, has turned all this on its head.

"In the Covid world we are seeing 98pc B2C, and only 2pc business to business, the businesses that we're seeing (getting deliveries) effectively are pharmacies and hospitals and health [companies]," Mr Travers says.

"Most of that shift, as well, has come from the fact that the shops would previously have had stores and [been] online, and they'd have had to close the stores, they are now moving everything they have online."

The increase in e-commerce has led to "an absolute tsunami of parcels" for the company to deal with.

While the biggest online retail platforms include US and Chinese online platforms and big UK fashion brands like Asos and Boohoo, the majority of goods being delivered by DPD right now are originating in Irish stores, Mr Travers says.

"We are seeing quite a lot [of packages] coming in from the UK, but we're also seeing Irish retailers respond to that," the father of three grown-up boys says.

"One of the difficulties for our business is some of our customers put on a sale or try and generate more revenue through lower prices. This generates more and more parcels. As a result at the moment we've been swamped. And so, we are trying to manage that as best we can and the only way we really can do that is by getting more drivers on the road every day."

In order to cope with the surge in demand the company, which has been part of the French post office La Poste since 2000, recently announced plans to hire an additional 100 drivers.

This will take its workforce in Ireland close to 2,000.

In the past good drivers "were like hen's teeth", Mr Travers says.

"Unfortunately this recruitment drive has seen a lot more applicants. We have found in the last week very good people hopefully they'll stay with us in the long term," he adds.

Across its depots, changes to the way the company operates, and how staff interact, have been implemented.

"In the first couple of weeks we thought 'well what happened if we lost a depot or a hub?' how to deal with that, that was our thinking at that time," Mr Travers says.

The company has now implemented social distancing measures both in its hubs and when drivers are delivering packages.

"And we have everything in terms of gloves, PPE, you name it, hand sanitisers, changing our break times, we've probably done thousands of things to change, but people's safety, that is our first priority."

This year the business will carry more than 22 million parcels for delivery. It is currently averaging north of 700,000 packages a week.

DPD's continued success in the courier market has in part been down to its investment, having spent more than €30m over the years to improve its delivery hub and technology, according to the life-long Glasgow Celtic fan, who joined the company 26 years ago.

Meanwhile, Eircodes, which help locate addresses across the country, "would be wonderful if people would use them".

"Nobody seems to be really that bothered about using them in general, most people now could probably tell you what the Eircode is, but in most of the correspondence of the parcels you see the Eircode still missing."

The service, which was launched in 2014, hasn't had the impact everyone thought it would have, Mr Travers reckons. Nonetheless "it's relatively young in its lifespan and I hope people will [use it more]. I know the Government are keen to push it and we would definitely be keen to see it because it does work," he says, adding "it is a great system, it has just not been really embraced by the Irish community."

While the company is currently experiencing "phenomenal growth", a challenge for it will be the type of economic recovery that occurs, he says.

"We need the economy to come back to what it was in the past. There is a real uncertainty as to whether or not we are in a full recession, we're probably in a world we have never ever been in before, because we're neither in growth or recession, and everybody understands these businesses have to come back. And we don't know," he says.

To illustrate the uncertainty that exists, Mr Travers says that about 2,500 of DPD's Irish customers that would be delivering goods each day are not shipping at the moment.

"We expect them to come back, but you don't know whether they are likely to come back to work again, whether those businesses are strong enough, and have enough cash to be able to see this pandemic through…that is definitely one of the unknowns," he says.

Elsewhere for Mr Travers, the threat of Brexit on the economy remains real.

To date, DPD has spent more than €3m in preparing for a worst-case scenario.

"Brexit will still have an enormous impact on our business, and we parked everything to create ourselves a world where we can survive in a [hard] Brexit scenario," he says.

"When there was a no-deal scenario [on the table] we spent money on resources, building a system so that it can do customs clearance and duties and taxes, should that be the outcome of the Brexit negotiations."

The decision by the UK to leave the European Union "is not a good thing for anyone".

"It's not something that any of us should welcome. The complexities that it adds to our businesses for no additional revenues is ridiculous," he adds.

He is of the view that "you're preparing for the worst-case scenario when you know that the politicians will negotiate something different".

"We spent over €3m preparing for Brexit, it was a huge investment. We probably won't need some of the things that we've done to prepare for. But it's not going away, the UK is still leaving," he adds.

Like most of us right now, he would "struggle to tell you what day of the week it is", the Saturdays and Sundays have, he says, "just ran into the weeks".

When he is not watching his beloved Celtic, Mr Travers's place to switch off is on the golf course.

"In a normal lifetime, my passion is golf so I play once a weekend in my local club."

Until the club reopens, no doubt there is a lot to keep him busy in the parcel delivery world.

Irish Independent