Photos: Upcoming Chinese New Year creates backlogs for courier companies
January 20, 2012Jing Gao2 CommentsChina Post, Chinese New Year, courier, e-shopping, Electronic commerce, EMS, express mail service, Online shopping, package delivery, postal service, Postal system, Shentong Express, spring festival, Taobao
If you are an online shopper in the United States, you must be very familiar with the phrase “Order before 12/23…Guaranteed Christmas delivery” advertised by most U.S. online retailers. But in China, last-minute shopping for the Spring Festival is a no-no. On the hugely popular e-shopping website Taobao, act at least eight days in advance, or you will very likely be told by the seller as early as eight days ahead of time that “We no longer accept orders until after the holiday,” or “Expect delay,” despite that unlike in the U.S., no courier service in China even closes its door during the festive season.
The avalanche of packages arriving at distribution centers of almost all Chinese courier companies, or bao cang, meaning “explosion of warehouses,” as they like to term the phenomenon, is a conundrum that China’s package delivery industry is slated to face every national holiday. Spring Festival, or the lunar Chinese New Year, is the country’s most important time of year on the calendar. Its indispensable elements, in addition to family reunion, feasts and delicacies, and fireworks, also include new head-to-toe looks and exchanging gifts with extended families and friends during visits.
On January 10, dozens of online store owners dropped off their packages at a service center of Shentong Express inside Four Seasons Building.
This year, the Chinese New Year falls on January 23. Ms. Hong, a white-collar worker in Hefei, southern Anhui province, wanted to order peaches online. But it is the same message that greets her on most sellers’ web pages: “Dear all, because of the explosion of warehouses at delivery services, we’ve already given ourselves days off! We will return to serve you after the 10th day into the New Year.” Zhao Wenqi, also an online shopper, were disappointed when she learned that she wouldn’t be wearing the two outfits she had fallen love with while web-browsing. “The seller stopped shipping from January 15.”
A courier rides a fully-loaded electric bicycle to deliver packages in the eastern city of Hangzhou.
A tired courier with Shunfeng Express naps on a pile of packages.
The volume of packages that Chinese courier companies handle daily keeps ebbing and flowing. Take Shentong Express, a privately owned express with services in most parts of China, as an example: based on its current network, its daily handling capacity is 3.5 million to 3.8 million shipments. But the actual daily volume during the normal season of 2011 was only 2.8 million, meaning the company doesn’t flex its muscles most of the time. On the other hand, during the peak season, which, by definition, lasts from November 11, 2011 to January 22, 2012, the package volume can surge to 4.3 million, putting a strain on its human hands. The daily package volume in China’s entire industry during the peak season has topped 18 million.
“It looks as if we are on the uptick. In fact we are overstretched by the rising workload. Besides, incidence of damaged and delayed shipments inevitably increases. The annual performance assessment of our company will also suffer as a result. Such a sudden peak season is actually a real headache to the company,” said Chen Xiangyang, CEO of Shentong Express.
However, it is the sellers on Taobao, the Chinese equivalent of eBay, who bear the brunt of the blame from shoppers. In China’s virtual world of consumerism where sellers and buyers have trust issues with one another, ratings becomes the only measurement of shoppers’ and shopkeepers’ credit. The ratings are categorized good, medium and bad. A good rating will produce better click-through rate and increase sales, while a “bad” rating can make the seller look really bad. Many sellers who cannot afford to be discredited simply do not accept any order. A shopkeeper said, because of the backlog of shipments, “I got four bad ratings from customers very unhappy with their belated orders last peak season. Many delivery services told me they can’t guarantee timeliness during the Spring Festival. That’s why I simply let myself and my employees take a long holiday.”
On January 10, an online store owner yawned while waiting in front of an EMS (Express Mail Service by China Post) store to ship her packages.
To overhaul an industry premised on meeting deadlines and demand, China Express Service Association, the state regulator, directed on December 31 that express delivery services remain open throughout the Spring Festival, adding that their daily work time should be no less than six hours.
Last year, a raw footage of package sorters of Shentong Express violently tossing packages around became viral and brought the company under attack for its reckless parcel handling.
On January 15, a package sorter at a distribution center of China Post in Yubei District, Chongqing, had to trot back and forth between different piles due to the surge in volume.
On January 15, workers feverishly sorted out packages on a conveyor belt at a distribution center of China Post in the southwestern city of Chongqing.
A worker scans the labels of packages ready for air travel at the Chongqing distribution center of China Post.