Couriers vs. coronavirus: part 1. Why didn’t COVID-19 destroy the courier service business?

The coronavirus epidemic taught everybody a lesson in being humble: day by day we have been deprived of the right to move freely, of a sense of feeling secure and of the possibility to contact our loved ones. If it weren’t for the internet, even in our own homes we would feel like we are imprisoned in the middle of nowhere. The other means to help us to pretend that life is normal is the courier delivery network. The couriers bringing packages to the door step deserve to be called the heroes of our time. Their employers are experiencing unexpected prosperity.

On the one hand, the pandemic has caused many companies to be on the brink of bankruptcy or to desperately cut costs, but on the other hand it became an opportunity for those who could increase their income or even start intensive development because of COVID-19. Manufacturers of personal protective equipment are one obvious example of such beneficiaries. Increased turnover is being experienced by internet service suppliers as well as by IT equipment manufacturers and sellers, and the administrators of games and movie websites. The courier service industry suffered a hiccup just after the Wuhan virus appeared: the number of delivery orders dropped sharply. However, in a very short time courier service demand not only bounced back to the level at the beginning of the year, but began to grow rapidly.

Trading migrates from offline to online

Governments in many countries have adopted a strategy to fight the pandemic, which is referred to as “flattening the curve of Coronavirus.” It is obvious that before a coronavirus drug or vaccine is developed and produced in sufficient quantity, most of us may become infected, some having mild to severe symptoms, some not getting any symptoms at all. And that’s the only way to get herd immunity before a vaccine is available. Staying at home and social distancing are the most important actions being taken to reduce the spread of the infection – to stabilise the number of cases at a level manageable by the health service.

That is why schools, other institutions and – the matter that we are most interested in – shops have been closed. And this new market for courier services is a cake big enough for everybody. Nobody really cared how couriers would safely deliver packages and not spread the virus? Just that someone had to do it – someone had to enable people locked up in their homes to conduct a kind of normal life.

You cannot exclude the possibility that in future, habits and precautionary principles from the quarantine period will become common and result in an increase in online transactions – also for those customer groups that until now have definitely preferred shopping in the real world.

What and why do we buy during a pandemic?

The first stage after the pandemic outbreak was announced was panic buying of food and personal protective equipment. Those who were more precautionary did not run to pharmacies, but rushed to browse the offers of online medical wholesalers. Everybody was buying various masks, gloves and disinfectants.

When it turned out that actually the stores are regularly supplied and the excessive stocks gathered in homes may end up in the trash, we returned to the rational purchase of basic food products. Soon afterwards it turned out that many of us stopped going to work and started working from home. Then we had to provide children with access to on-line education. So to make it all possible we went shopping for IT equipment – of course on the internet.

We are not eager to go outside our houses and we will not change our mind for a while. Not only because we are afraid of getting infected, but also because there is not a lot of choice of places to go: restaurants and bars, cinemas, theatres are closed, concerts and sporting events have been cancelled. We cannot go to yoga classes or to the gym. Neither can we go to chat with our hairdresser. We can’t do a lot of different things that previously were filling up our time.

So our anxiety associated with the pandemic has been joined by boredom.  No wonder we started searching for entertainment on the internet. Shopping has always been one of the good old means of fighting boredom and enhancing your mood. It is no different now: we are now exploring the virtual shelves looking for promotions and shopping for items, which we planned to buy months ago but never did.

Everything we buy online is delivered to us thanks to courier companies which are experiencing an increase of up to 20% in the number of orders compared to the same period in 2019. Coronavirus did not destroy the courier services market, but unexpectedly created additional development opportunities. And, last but not least, it forced us to develop procedures for pandemic and natural disaster events. They can be useful because – if you believe the forecasts – this is not the last pandemic that most of us will experience.