Illogical Logistics

In the days of yore, we didn’t have to make choices when it came to parcel deliveries. We had a state monopoly in the form of the GPO (General Post Office), latterly the Royal Mail. Whilst the Royal Mail may never have been accused of being the most efficient organization in the country, this situation seemed perfectly sensible, to me, anyway. All parcels for any one customer were placed on a single modestly sized vehicle and were delivered all together in a single trip. The same vehicle would, of course, then go on to deliver the day’s parcels to other customers. Even if the Royal Mail itself wasn’t particularly efficient, the delivery process was.

For part of my working life, I occupied a desk on the ground floor of our company’s office block. In addition to a reasonable view of one pair of female legs that went on forever and ever (amen!), my position afforded me a very clear view of the car park and entrance to our building. We had by now entered the brave new world of deregulation. In the spirit and supposed benefit of competition, the old state monopoly was gone and parcels could now be delivered by various specialist “logistics/delivery solutions” companies such as UPS, DHL, Federal Express, etc., as well as the good ol’ Post Office. Now, many different delivery vans, painted in various shades and porting various logos, would scream with élan into our office car park and screech to halt outside the entrance. The drivers would hop down from their cabs and rummage around in the back of their vehicle before emerging with what was almost invariably a single parcel which would then be reverently carried into our reception. About 30 minutes later another van, painted another shade and emblazoned with a different logo, would turn up and deliver another single parcel. This almost constant procession of delivery vans went on for a good portion of each day delivering one parcel at a time.

Though this delivery solution might have been an entertaining and welcome distraction for those of us making superhuman efforts not to stare at beguilingly long female legs, it didn’t strike me as being very efficient, particularly vis-a-vis CO2 emissions. Small, efficient red Post Office vans making a single visit each day bringing everything had been replaced by many much larger, thirstier vans delivering items piecemeal.

What was I saying about the Royal Mail being less than stunningly efficient? Carol recently weakened (under pressure from yours truly, I might add) and ordered a Kindle from good ol’ Amazon. Being otherwise tight-fisted, we went for the free delivery option.

Amazon-UK’s warehouse is located a mere 8½ miles away from our door as the crow flies. On Monday 3rd January, Carol’s Kindle left Amazon in the morning. A day later, Tuesday, it was 30 miles or so further north at the Royal Mail’s National Distribution Centre. The following day, Wednesday, it apparently made its way a distance of about 60 miles back south, passing its original start point [Ed: wave, everybody!], to the Royal Mail’s Northern Home Counties Distribution Centre at Hatfield. On Thursday 6th, it staggered its way another 30 miles from Hatfield to Leighton Buzzard and, after a circuitous journey of something like 120 miles, was shown by the tracking system as being somewhere in our home town. It had taken 3 days to get from its initial point 8½ miles distant to within 2 miles of our house. Was it delivered that day? No, of course not. It had to remain in the local Royal Mail depot until Friday morning when it was brought (by one of those small red Royal Mail vans) the final 2 miles to our door.

I know delivery was all within spec – Amazon says standard delivery is 3 to 5 days – but it does make me laugh in a maniacal sort of way. Who’d have thought tracking systems could be so entertaining?

I’ve begun to understand what I thought of as a ridiculous situation several years ago when I needed to return an item to the supplier in Norwich, a distance of about 100 miles. The helpful chap in the Post Office told me it would take five days to get there. “Good grief”, I replied, astonished, “I could walk to Norwich with it in five days – what do you do, deliberately leave it on a shelf?”

It seems they do; several shelves, in fact. Just how many distribution centres does a country this modestly sized need?

Good job the Royal Mail doesn’t cover an area as large as the States.

One comment on “Illogical Logistics
  1. Keith Stillman says:

    But just think about all of the people that are being employed by the various companies and by the various distribution centers supported by non-direct GPO routes.

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