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July 17, 2023

Shifting Client Priorities in a Post-Pandemic Logistics Landscape

Like any ecosystem, different seasons bring about different strains on the environment: during seasons of extreme heat, animals may seek shelter and a reliable water source; during an abundant spring, growth and population pressure increases. The logistics industry experiences seasons as well, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may well have been one of the most significant events in history to impact the e-commerce delivery ecosystem.

What does the post-pandemic landscape have in store for us? Intelcom Business Development Director, Jean-Sébastien Blais, gives us his take.

A sink-or-swim shift for retailers

An unprecedented spike in demand turned the logistics industry on its head during the pandemic. Parcel carrier organizations battled to expand their capacity and quickly support an influx of retailers shifting to e-commerce sales, while families worldwide began sheltering in place.

Prior to the March 2020 lockdowns, online sales in Canada had been steadily increasing, but a near-instant spike in demand meant that many delivery companies were struggling to keep up: 8 in 10 Canadians were now shopping online.

"A huge surge of new companies and shops were looking for delivery services [during the pandemic]. It put a huge level of stress on carriers to find extra capacity, not only to serve our actual clients that were in need but to be able to accommodate new clients that had to adapt to the Covid restrictions." Shares Blais.

Capacity became the primary focus of the industry, and that demand came in waves. Metrics like successful delivery rates were measuring off the charts, thanks to customers being almost always home to receive their parcels.

"Especially in Quebec with the curfew, [there were] great pressures on the carriers. But as the curfew was on and off and the waves of COVID came, it drastically changed. I would say that mid-2022 is where we saw a slowdown in terms of volume."

This recent decrease in e-commerce sales dramatically impacts logistics operators across the country.

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Fierce competition country-wide

When volume goes down, competition between couriers goes up. And after years of scaling operations across the country, certain logistics organizations that grew to cater to the pandemic demand have plenty of trucks – but not enough parcels.

Intelcom's responsive and adaptable service model means it suffers no sink-or-swim moments when capacity shifts occur.

"Carriers have started to shrink their size and close facilities in order to cut costs…so it's important, I would say, to stay very quick on what exactly the market is looking for, and be able to adapt," Blais explains, "That's a strength that Intelcom has: we have a national network, but we still have that flexibility of a regional carrier, in which we can accommodate new clients and make sure we fit their needs."

Adaptability: the silver bullet

Several hundred independent delivery partners and killer customer service: these elements and more help Intelcom to remain adaptable in dynamic delivery landscapes.

"We're able to grow or reduce our capacity and our vehicle needs based on the demand, so the independent contractors can maximise their revenues and insure quality of service. There's plenty of strategies we have used to be able to double or triple our capacity at any time without having extra trucks."

This agility extends beyond just volume, too.

"There was a switch in terms of what the clients were looking for, to “how can I cut my costs?” It's linked with inflation…it costs more to import their goods…and they get hit with staff shortages. Those are the major switches we saw in the past two years."

Post-pandemic, consumers expect more predictable and reliable shipping options and easy returns. As for retailers, they want shipping solutions that can adapt to these new expectations.

"The reliability of delivery is extremely important now because people are shopping for stuff they need [quickly]. During the pandemic, I would say the expectation was very low - it was more recreational shopping online. Now it's back to what you saw in 2019, which is that speed of delivery, tracking features and customer experience are extremely important."

A great delivery experience can help to seal the deal and became a strong selling argument for an Ecom retailer.

"The delivery experience is pretty much the only physical experience [customers] will have shopping online, so if you buy somewhere new and the delivery experience is not good, you will not shop again on that website. This is where our fight really is; it's to make sure that we're able to give that edge to any retailer so they can grow their market shares and make sure that the customer is happy."

We build our network based on our client needs.

Jean-Sébastien Blais

Director, Business Development

"We have the flexibility of a more regional carrier, being able to adapt to requests, but we have the network of a national carrier. We can be very flexible to accommodate our clients. Not only for pickups and scheduling, but for example, I can arrange to park a truck at their facility so the client can load it during the day and we just go once it’s ready.” Those are the kinds of things we can easily put in place to accommodate them." Says Blais.

"Instead of trying to squeeze those retailers within a model or within a network that is very rigid, for us, it's mostly the opposite. We build our network and services based on the client. And this is how we can be extremely flexible and have many options for them; building as we go based on the client and their customers. It’s how we have been able to start our home hand-off service and soon our drop-off location network. "

Paying close attention to client and customer needs is what keeps Intelcom ahead of the pack. Whether this means innovating on returns with convenient Home Hand-Off services, building a robust customer service experience, or expanding and contracting drivers to manage client costs, Intelcom always looks to the future with their customers in mind.

"This is where you create some value as a carrier for your client. In the next couple of years, we want to really listen to what the customer wants to get in terms of a direct experience, and really focus on providing the most diverse options, without putting a large cost on them."