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A Retailer’s Guide to Parcel Carriers

March 2021

What is a parcel carrier?

First coined by 19th century novelist Anna Porter, a parcel carrier is ‘a person who, or thing which carries a parcel; specifically a company whose business is to transport parcels’. And, in the year 2021, for the most part, this still stands true.

Today a parcel carrier, or ‘courier’ is a company such as Hermes, Yodel or DPD who collects the parcel/parcels from the retailer, wholesaler or consumer and takes the goods back to a local hub for any required sorting before the items are taken to a national hub for domestic UK redistribution or international clearance and onward delivery. Once the parcel arrives in its destination zone, or geographic area, the parcel is passed on to the carrier’s final mile delivery operations, ready for timed delivery to the consumer’s, or business’s address.

A 2021 study by Whistl found that over 2.8 billion parcels were sent in the UK alone, in the last financial year. The UK domestic parcels market is highly fragmented, with 16 major national carriers. As of 2019, Royal Mail was by far the most popular end carrier from consumers’ perspectives.

UK most popular parcel delivery providers.png

However, from retailers’ perspectives, Hermes was in 2019 retailers’ preferred delivery option offered:

Most commonly used by UK's top online retailers.png

How do carriers work in practice?

As a retailer or wholesaler, once your parcel has been securely packaged, you will need to apply the corresponding order’s shipping label, and if the item is being shipped internationally, one or multiple commercial invoices and customs documentation. Depending on your agreement with your chosen carrier partner/cariier partners, you can either arrange for your parcels and packets to be collected from your business address, or deliver them yourself to a local drop-off point.

After the courier has performed the collection from your warehouse or retail premises, your parcel will be taken to a local depot for sortation. Here, along with other retailers' and consumers' packets, parcels and post, the items will be organised by destination address, and grouped together accordingly. If thisis a domestic shipment, your parcel will then be sent to the destination hub, where it will be sorted again and grouped by smaller, more specific geographic areas. From this destination hub, a delivery driver will collect the parcel, ready for final mile delivery. These courier drivers are given specific routes that apply algorithms to ensure the fastest route between all destinations. This is the final mile delivery. During final mile delivery, different carriers give retailers and their customers a wide variety of options, such as the ability to rearrange delivery times in-flight, SMS notifications, signature and phone verification.

What do consumers expect from parcel carrier companies?

Consumers increasingly expect a wide range of delivery options at checkout, in-flight options that put them in control, all of which cost-effectively, and in many cases for free. Delivery options can really influence a customer's decision to make a purchase; a recent study by Whistl found over 80% of online shoppers say that tracking is important, particularly when shopping online, while an astounding 45% of shoppers have even changed their mind about making a purchase because they were dissatisfied with the retailer's delivery options.

Tracking visibility is important, with 87% of consumers considering details of proof of delivery vital, and 86% demand the option to reschedule if unable to accept delivery. 85% expect proof of postage and dispatch.

In a 2019 study by Parcelhub, despite consumers demanding a robust returns offering, only 55% of mid-market online retailers offered returns as standard. More recent research shows that UK customers are deterred from shopping online with retailers who don’t offer free returns. And some brands and marketplaces such as Zalando are already evolving their returns policies in line with these changing expectations.

How can you optimise your carrier partners for international delivery?

Given the acceleration of eCommerce adoption, rise in shipping volumes and increasingly stringent cross-border processes, particularly when shipping from the UK into the European Union, it has become crucial to utilise an effective carrier partner for cross-border shipping. Working with the right courier can make or break your international sales growth. Some carrier companies have been faster than others to adapt, but for most businesses, it makes sense to deploy a multi-carrier strategy in which you have a courier tailored to each region.

Whoever you ship with, you must ensure you have provided the carrier with the correct customs information. Better prepared parcel carriers will ask for all of the required information while you book your shipment, whereas others will ask you to provide these details after label printing. These details include your EORI number, HS code for your product and commercial invoices, all of which are needed for shipping from the UK into the European Union, along with other international destinations.

How can you as a retailer, provide a better last-mile delivery experience?

A study by Capgemini found that the 'last-mile', or final leg of the delivery journey is now more significant than ever. A superior final mile experience helps retailers better engage and retain consumers, with three-quarters willing to spend more if they are satisfied with the retailer's carrier partner(s).

While consumers are willing to spend more with retailers after they have a positive experience with your courier partner, during their first purchase Whistl found, they expect many enhanced final mile features as standard:

Part and parcel of the service.jpg

To meet these growing demands, mainstream carriers such as Yodel and Hermes are now offering in-flight options to enhance the customer experience in the final mile.

For example, Yodel’s Xpect service has given consumers the ability to:

  • Leave their parcel in a safe place
  • Nominate to a preferred neighbour or tell Yodel who to avoid
  • Change delivery date or address
  • Collect from their local depot or hold their parcel for up to 16 days

While Hermes’ Digital Futures solution empowers the end consumer with an app, in which “SafePlace Photo, combined with location tracking provides retailers and consumers with photographic evidence and coordinates of parcel deliveries, providing them with added confidence that their parcels have arrived even when a customer might not be home.” SafePlace photos, taken by the courier on their handheld device, are automatically linked to the parcel tracking and visible to retailers and consumers. Geofencing provides a location and a map of where each parcel has been delivered with a radius as small as 10m.

What are the benefits of working with multiple parcel carriers?

In any business, it makes sense to diversify and spread risk where possible. Whether that’s concerning your product suppliers, sales channels, customer contact methods or carrier partners, not ‘putting all of your eggs in one basket’ will pay dividends should unexpected events occur.

If your product range varies in terms of dimensions, volumetrics, weight or value, deploying a multiple-carrier shipping strategy will enable you to tailor your delivery options to suit your product characteristics.

Furthermore, some carriers are better optimised for time-critical domestic UK shipping, whereas others are geared towards higher volume, less urgent deliveries, and international carriers are set up to enable seamless cross-border shipping.

Specialising in business parcel delivery, Whistl works with a range of carrier partners so that you can offer your customers the appropriate delivery options for product type, destination and to suit their urgency. If your business is sending a minimum of 100 parcels, packets or mail daily, Whistl offers a single collection regardless of carrier choice, and single integration with your order management system and sales channels.

How can you ensure your delivery strategy drives continuous improvement?

A study by Brightpearl and Trustpilot found 77% of poor reviews are directly related to issues shoppers have after clicking 'buy'. Effective online sellers should, therefore, consistently monitor and review their delivery performance and customer feedback. A plethora of issues can occur during the delivery journey, and the way that you handle these challenges, proactively or reactively, can have an impact on your company’s reputation.

Trustpilot reviews of delivery issues.png

Working with a multiple-carrier specialist such as Whistl means you have the support of a company that is experienced with managing the complexities surrounding delivery, in a way that is tailored to help meet your business’s growth strategy and customers’ ever-evolving expectations.

How Whistl has helped some of our customers with parcel courier delivery management:


Graze, a leading UK retailer of healthy snacks needed a carrier management partner who could help them offer greater customer delivery choice. This major health food brand benefited from proven cost savings, better handover quality, consistent service levels, and reliable delivery management. Graze’s confidence in Whistl’s ability to understand the business has enabled them to increase on-time delivery performance and enhance overall customer experience.

Music Magpie

One of the world’s largest eBay and Amazon sellers, Whistl has collaborated with this major marketplace seller to help meet their huge delivery demands from shoppers all over the world. Whistl devised a cost-effective bespoke carrier management solution for delivery of musicMagpie’s large letters, packets and parcels enabling them to maximise the use of its own internal sortation process to deliver a cost-effective service when fulfilling customer orders 24/7. As a result, there was a significant reduction in the cost of delivery with quality of service maintained in the UK and globally.

In conclusion as a retailer can you enhance your customers' shipping experience with parcel carriers?

When looking for a suitable carrier partner for your eCommerce business, it is sensible to check where their strengths lie, their integration capabilities, and general customer feedback. At Whistl we are constantly reviewing our carrier partners to ensure they can offer the retailers we serve effective delivery that drives growth and repeat purchase, and the delivery experience the end consumer expects, cost-effectively and without compromise.

Sending more than 100 parcels a day? Whistl can help enhance your customers’ delivery experience.

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