How it felt to run a small business during the Royal Mail strikes
The following blog post is a copy of the text that was on my Delivery page during the Royal Mail strikes that occurred over Black Friday weekend 2022. It runs from approximately 5th December to 23rd December 2022. It describes the chaos, stress and heartache the strikes caused for one very small UK business.
***ROYAL MAIL STRIKES - SEVERE DELAYS!!!***
As you probably know, Royal Mail staff are on strike periodically in the run-up to Christmas. Even though I send everything by Tracked 48 or Tracked 24, and am a Royal Mail Business Account customer with a daily collection, the strikes are now causing severe delays.
Parcels are leaving me on the day I notify you of the tracking, going directly from my door to the local Royal Mail local depot in my town but then, once transported from here to the main Bristol Mail Centre, they are getting stuck in the huge backlog, unscanned. The tracking is therefore not being updated by Royal Mail, and is inaccurate.
The next strikes in December are due on Friday 23rd and Christmas Eve.
Therefore I cannot send out any parcels on these dates.
All orders made before 10.00am on the day before the strikes will go out as usual but delivery will be delayed, and the tracking information for your parcel will not change as quickly as normal.
All orders made during the strikes will go out on the next strike-free working day (excluding Saturday). There are likely to be some heavy delays in delivery after the strikes as Royal Mail catch up.
For further information about the Royal Mail service during the strikes see here: Royal Mail Latest News
N.B. During these strikes, where I have dispatched your parcel, and I've given you a tracking number, please note that the Royal Mail tracking website wording is disingenuous and inaccurate until your parcel is transported to, and scanned in at, the large Mail Centre depot in Bristol. The wording is as follows:
This wording is incorrect. If you see this notification, your parcel is already in the hands of Royal Mail; it has been collected from me by the postman on the day you received your notification from my website and is either on its way to the Bristol Mail Centre, stuck in a backlog at this Centre or at your own Royal Mail Centre in the city closest to your home - it has left the building here - I no longer have it! When you see this notification on Track & Trace, Royal Mail have physical possession of your parcel!
Because I am an utter control freak and delivery is my 'thing', these delays and erroneous Royal Mail notifications are very distressing and incredibly infuriating. I am checking your parcel tracking multiple times per day, and I know from previous experience that eventually the tracking may well jump from the notification above to 'In Transit' at a Mail Centre in your region, for example, Medway, Cardiff, Chester, Edinburgh etc, or 'Out For Delivery', missing out the scanning at Bristol MC altogether. Such is the nature of these strikes.
***THE WORDING OF THE TRACKING MESSAGE ABOVE WAS CHANGED BY ROYAL MAIL ON 14th DECEMBER. PLEASE SEE NEW VERSION IN UPDATE OF 15th DECEMBER BELOW***
UPDATE: 7 December: I have contacted Royal Mail Regional team but have not yet received a response to my question about those parcels dispatched on Monday 28th November, and onwards, that remain unscanned with the tracking message above, or stuck at Bristol Mail Centre with the tracking message: 'We've Got It!'. Their standard reply is currently that Tracked 24/48 is an aim not a guarantee. I have also been in contact with my local depot manager in the hope he can help unstick these parcels.
UPDATE: 8 December: I have had contact with Royal Mail at a senior level. They are looking into the problem and we are now working to find the parcels and resolve the issue.
UPDATE: 9 December: Some stuck parcels have moved this morning. However, there is still a significant issue. Between 28th November and 2 December inclusive, I sent out 83 parcels. Of these, 55 have now been delivered but 10 Tracked 24s and 18 Tracked 48s, 28 in total, are still stuck either Unscanned with the notification above, or at the 'We've Got It' stage, or stuck at other Mail Centres around the UK.
Update 2: 9 December: I have received a standard-reply response from the Regional team, which clearly shows that they neither read my email nor looked at the spreadsheet I sent them. This was absolutely the reply I expected, including the typos:
I am waiting for further clarification from my senior contact, which may well now be next week. I have resent my spreadsheet to the Regional team with a rather more tersely worded email but I expect a similar response.
UPDATE: 10 December: Tiny changes this morning. A few parcels have moved to different Mail Centres, a couple of newer parcels, and one older one, look set to be delivered today but no movement on the rump of stuck parcels, not a surprise since they were on strike yesterday. I have a growing concern about the ones stuck at other Mail Centres such as Chester, Jubilee, Leeds, Sheffield, Atherstone, Glasgow and Nottingham. As each day goes by, the more this whole thing resembles a bizarre version of The Great Escape.
The sad thing about all this is that under normal circumstances, for Tracked delivery, Royal Mail are the best. However...
Going forward, once all this settles down a bit, I will be offering a DPD delivery option at checkout. I can't offer it right now because DPD have suspended collections in my area due to the huge demand created by the strikes and Christmas, and the closest drop-off point they're offering is 7 miles away - plus I'm just not happy about leaving my fabrics and your parcels at a newsagent I don't know. But after Xmas, once they start collecting again (hopefully), I will put it as a choice on the website. It will have to be more expensive, £5.00, will be only for Mainland UK, as the prices to deliver outside that area are frankly ridiculously huge, and the cutoff for free delivery will be much higher.
UPDATE 2: 10 December: A couple of things worth sharing this evening. I was shown this tracking of a Tracked 48 parcel on social media. It's not a parcel from me. It shows the extent of the problem at Leeds Mail Centre, and I suspect that Bristol Mail Centre is similarly affected. The parcel was dispatched to Leeds Mail Centre on 24th November and remained at the 'Item Dispatched' tracking notification (the first-stage one, an example of which is above) until today, when it was eventually scanned in by Leeds:
A couple of people have suggested to me that part of the reason why parcels are now firmly stuck is that, like all large organisations, Royal Mail has delivery targets. The target will start from the time the parcel is 'accepted', i.e. you get the 'We've Got It' tracking, at a Mail Centre. This gives staff an incentive NOT to scan older parcels. It's also possible that the clock resets when a parcel moves from, say, Leeds Mail Centre to Nottingham Mail Centre. Nottingham then don't scan it in until they absolutely have to. Hence we have parcels suddenly jumping from one tracking to another, and skipping steps out.
Update 11 December: No changes overnight and today Royal Mail are on strike again so I don't expect any movement - this whole thing is absolutely infuriating. I am furious.
Update 12 December: One victory this morning! A Tracked 24 that was collected from me on 28 November jumped from Unscanned to another big Mail Centre closer to the customer's home, missing Bristol out altogether. Also a few more are ready for delivery. But the rump is still stuck. The tally of Unscanned from 28 November-6 December now stands at 3 Tracked 24s and 10 Tracked 48s. But I have a little more hope now that things are going to be moving this week.
Other issues remain. Many that were scanned in at Bristol have jumped around, visiting various Mail Centres in areas unrelated to their eventual destination. Here are a couple of examples - these are not parcels dispatched by me:
My gut tells me that this bizarre bouncing around is because many Mail Centres are severely over-capacity, and so the parcels are being diverted to other Mail Centres who do have space. Bristol Mail Centre has been in the news over the last few days, and basically their main building is full so they've been using the car park to store parcels. This bad publicity might work in our favour as Royal Mail focus on cutting the Bristol backlog. But other Mail Centres are in a similar state.
This is probably why some of the newer parcels I have dispatched are being scanned quicker - because they're outside the building and easier to access than the older parcels inside the building - mad I know.
Update: December 13:No real movement overnight. I sent my spreadsheet to another person in the Regional team, and have also, this morning, sent a revised version to my senior contact. I have urged them to be honest about the scale of the backlogs and their capacity to deliver. Many shops are still urging people to buy for delivery by Christmas and I just can't see how, if you buy something today sent via Royal Mail, it's going to arrive before Xmas. They are on strike tomorrow and Thursday. I wish I had more and better news but do believe all the outstanding parcels will be delivered.
Update: December 14:Again, no huge victories this morning. Though some small movements on ones already scanned at Bristol, and ones that have left Bristol. In addition, one Tracked 24 parcel in particular for a customer who lives closer to London is doing the mini-grand tour of English Mail Centres. Dispatched on 28 November, it sat unscanned at Bristol until Monday 12 December when it escaped from the carnage and suddenly appeared at Jubilee MC near London, skipping the scan at Bristol altogether. It sat there for two days and has, this morning, turned up at Chelmsford MC - presumably because Jubilee is in a complete state as well.
Yesterday I received my second reply from the Regional business team. It's slightly more forthcoming than the previous reply and not quite as redolent of the Iraqi Information Minister, and for that I thank them, but it's not exactly stellar news. The main body of the rely is below:
This reply is clear: there is literally nothing they can do - or I can do - to move these parcels any quicker. That's a victory of sorts. I always respect and prefer honesty over flannel.
There has been more press coverage and pictures of the chaos at Mail Centres both yesterday and this morning. Much of it focuses on Bristol in particular but it's clear from the parcel-bouncing that a great many Centres are buckling under the sheer volume of mail.
Royal Mail are on strike today and tomorrow. I'll keep checking my spreadsheet and monitoring the tracking. I'll continue to do updates and let you know if I hear anything new.
Thank you so much for all your very kind and soothing words, your patience and understanding, which has helped me so very much. You are brilliant in every single way.
Update: 15th December: Last night, Royal Mail changed the wording of the initial tracking message for parcels that have been collected by them but not scanned in at Mail Centres. I'd love to think that this change was something to do with what I said to my senior contact, as it was one of the points I raised, but I doubt it! Every business stuck in this nightmare had issues caused by the wording. I did also urge them to put out an honest public statement acknowledging the scale of the backlogs and accepting that they could not meet their guaranteed Christmas last posting dates - let's see if they do that at any point.
The new wording is as follows, and makes it slightly clearer that they have the parcels - it's certainly in a bigger font, and they like it so much that they've repeated it three times!
There has been no real movement overnight, except for one parcel that was dispatched on 28 November and subsequently scanned in at Bristol; this one has now escaped and made it as far as Inverness overnight - great news!
Royal Mail were on strike yesterday and again today. The negative media coverage of the backlogs at Mail Centres continues in the national press. One paper even managed to get some aerial drone footage over Bristol Mail Centre.
They are back at work tomorrow until next Friday, then they strike again. I'll keep monitoring movements.
Update 16th December: Royal Mail are back at work today and will be working until next Friday so fingers crossed. One remarkable thing happened today, a parcel dispatched on 28th November and totally unscanned by Bristol, suddenly jumped to Out For Delivery in Staffordshire! So maybe that's what's going to happen to all of the unscanned ones. Hope so.
The state of play right now is that I have 11 unscanned parcels dispatched on or before 6 December. Plus 7 parcels in the same time period sitting either scanned at Bristol or doing the Grand Tour of Mail Centres. Of the more recent parcels, I have 7 Tracked 24s dispatched on 12th December unscanned at Bristol. Plus 7 going out today by Tracked 24. The rest have been delivered.
Update 2, 12.20pm:16th December: ANOTHER PARCEL HAS JUMPED FROM UNSCANNED TO OUT FOR DELIVERY! Things are starting to happen!!
Update: 17 December: Despite my excitement yesterday, only tiny changes today. The whole system is moving at a snail's pace. Another jumped from Unscanned at Bristol to another Mail Centre closer to its final destination. They are not lost, they are just moving at a glacial pace. Fingers crossed the pace will pick up over the weekend and into next week.
Royal Mail changed the Unscanned tracking page again last night - but just to make it prettier.
Update: 18 December: Another parcel dispatched on 28th November was delivered today! It spent 16 days sitting at Jubilee Mail Centre and, just when I thought it would never move from there, it was delivered! So small successes every day now!
Update: 19 December: I'm expecting some significant movement this week. Overnight one that was stuck since 6th December moved to a new Mail Centre, and the orders I dispatched on Friday 16th almost all moved to Milton Keynes - maybe they have some space there now.
Right now I have 13 Tracked 48s dispatched between 28th November-2 December undelivered in various places and states of scanning. Six of those remain unscanned at Bristol with the tracking message above.
Three Tracked 24s remain stuck from the same period including one unscanned T24 at Bristol for a lovely lady in Northern Ireland. Parcels going outside mainland UK, to NI and the Scottish Islands have suffered for sure in all this, which is very upsetting.
The Tracked 24s I sent on 12th December have not moved and remain unscanned at Bristol.
The picture is significantly better than it was but I'm still at the mercy of the backlog. I really hope I'm not going to be checking my spreadsheet on Christmas Day.
There has been more press coverage of the Royal Mail backlogs over the last couple of days but also plenty of poor coverage for the other couriers. DPD in particular have come in for a lot of negative press as it appears they have let down their existing small, independent-business customers in favour of taking on new business from the very large retailers. They have restricted the number of parcels their small businesses can send, completely ruining Christmas plans, and there are significant delays to delivery.
Royal Mail, under normal circumstances, are the best and in the UK they deliver nearly three times the volume of parcels per year as DPD, who are the biggest courier operation, and they cover more of the UK at a universal price. So while it might seem a good idea to jump to DPD, nothing is straightforward. And though I will offer DPD as an option once they start collecting again, it's never going to be the complete solution.
Update 2: 19th December: Another THREE parcels from 28th November have just been delivered!!!! So exciting!
Update: 20 December: I heard back again from my senior Royal Mail contact yesterday evening. The upshot is there is very little they can do - unsurprisingly. Two bits were of interest. First, the car park at Bristol is no longer full of parcels - I think this was meant to reassure me:
They also asked for a spreadsheet again but in the form of a download from Click & Drop, which I have done this morning and sent...again. AGAIN. My list of stuck parcels must have been given to every manager in Royal Mail by now. Not that it's doing much good.
Frankly I am slowly losing the will to live over this strike. It has crippled my business at what should be a happy and profitable time, and has led to the destruction of many other small and micro-business. There appears to be nothing I or anyone at Royal Mail can do to move things along. Ho hum.
Update: 21 December: One big victory overnight! The remaining unscanned Tracked 24 dispatched on 28th November made it to Northern Ireland, and should be delivered today. This is another parcel that has not moved not an inch until yesterday.
The state of play now is 5 Tracked 48s stuck from the end of November, and 2 from the start of December. Plus 6 Tracked 24s dispatched on 12 December which have not yet been scanned.
Royal Mail are on strike again on Friday and Saturday but I don't expect this to cause anything like the problems we've had before after the strikes - the flow into Royal Mail will reduce considerably over the next few days. Fingers crossed for my remaining stuck ones.
Update 2: 21 December: Just had another depressing email response from the Regional business team. More of the same. Nothing new. If things carry on being like this I'm just not sure Simple Life Fabrics will survive. I just have to hope that I get some sales over Christmas.
Update 3: 21 December: Great news! (This is such a rollercoaster ride!). All the parcels dispatched on 12 December have now moved! Fabulous! It's become clear that Mondays' dispatches are the worst hit by the strikes. But I have great hopes for them all now!
Update: 22 December: All parcels dispatched on 12th have made good progress overnight. The parcels dispatched on Monday 19th December have not yet moved - again it's clear that during these strikes Monday is a bad day to dispatch.
The remaining Tracked 48 parcels sent out in very early December remain stuck with no movement. Although, worryingly, the tracking for one that I know has has been delivered says it's still at Bristol. Another is at the local delivery office and a final one that was sent at the very end of November and says it's stuck at Bristol may also have been delivered but I can't contact the customer.
The state of play overall is therefore that of the 117 parcels I've sent out since 28 November, all apart from those five Tracked 24 sent out on Monday 19th of December, and six Tracked 48s dispatched on Friday 2 December - just after the two-day strike that week, are either close to being delivered or have been delivered. So just over 90 per cent have been, or will shortly be, delivered.
FINAL UPDATE!!!! What a fabulous DAY! Six parcels were delivered today and all of the remaining old stuck ones are now on the move! It's like a little Christmas miracle!! I am overjoyed!
Obviously, I still have ones from 19th December which are all Tracked 24 and absolutely should have been delivered on the 20th. But under the circumstances, to have fought so hard and lost so much sleep since the end of November over this, I shall take the WIN!
I'll still be monitoring as the tracking is dodgy on quite a few but, thanks to the lovely people who emailed me to say the parcels had arrived, I'm confident I know where everything is.
I'm going to be moving this whole saga over onto a blog post so that I can remember the lessons I've learnt, so you'll still be able to read it - though to be honest I'm probably the only person sad enough to want to do that haha!
Thank you so very, very much for all your support, kindness and generosity of spirit. You are all very special people.
Onwards, forever onwards!
Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year,