After experiencing unprecedented amounts of business as a result of coronavirus-related lockdowns, operations at parcel companies like Bpost, PostNL, GLS and DPD are returning to normal.
By the end of 2020, Bpost was processing an average of 580,000 parcels a day, according to De Standaard, an amount roughly double the normal rate.
But a recent survey of various delivery companies shows that the rush has died down somewhat, and the past few months are seeing volume more typical of pre-pandemic times.
“The past few months there has been a general correction in the delivery market,” Frank Jahn of DPD Belux told De Standaard.
DPD Belux holds about 15 percent of the Belgian parcel market.
“Volumes are still slightly higher than in 2019, the last year before the coronavirus, but there is no longer the explosive increase seen in 2020 with double-digit growth rates,” said Jahn.
Bpost is seeing a similar trend, according to union leader Geert Cools (Acod).
“August and September were and are weak months,” Cools told De Standaard.
“There is still growth compared to 2019, but the expectation was that it would be higher.”
Bpost was still forecasting a growth in volume of 2.9 percent for the parcels market in the second quarter, and was counting on continued online sales to make it.
But while BeCommerce said that Belgians are continuing to do much of their shopping online despite the removal of coronavirus-related restrictions that first drove up those numbers, the pressure has been alleviated for shipping companies overall.
Hastily recruited drivers, often working as subcontractors, could be at risk of losing their jobs now that forecasts for the rest of the year are being lowered, reports De Standaard.
But DPD Belux’s Jahn said there was no need to worry just yet.
“There is no reason for concern, there will be no major round of redundancies,” said Jahn.
“It is true, however, that we now need slightly fewer drivers. We are now making new agreements about this with our subcontractors. They know they have to be flexible.”
It’s possible the upcoming holiday season could drive up demand for shipping again.
“We expect that from October onwards it will be busier than now,” Luc De Schrijver, top executive of GLS, told the Dutch-language newspaper.
De Schrijver cited expected rushes around Christmas and New Years, along with shopping holidays relatively new to Belgium like Black Friday and Singles’ Day (11 November), an unofficial holiday in China that celebrates people who are not in relationships.
“But even with us, volumes are currently back to pre-coronavirus levels, and much faster than we had thought. We don’t expect to see periods like those during the lockdowns any time soon,” said De Schrijver.
Dutch postal company PostNL, on the other hand, says it’s sticking to previous forecasts.
PostNL holds around 10 to 15 percent of the market in Belgium, and is predicting 11.4 percent growth in the second quarter.
“It’s true that we no longer see explosive growth as we did at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, but we see that the previously achieved growth remains stable,” a spokesperson for the company told De Standaard.