Non-professional couriers, using their own cars and spare time, are becoming a force to be reckoned with as the internet reshapes the UK’s logistics industry.
Almost a billion parcels are estimated to have been delivered in the UK in 2012 by an expanding logistics workforce of around 1.8 million people, supporting a domestic parcel industry worth around £4.4bn.
Self-employed drivers now make up anything between 5-8% of UK logistics workers, with one of the most rapid expansions in the group known in the industry as ‘lifestyle couriers’.
These are individuals who, out of choice or necessity, spend varying amounts of time each week delivering parcels, usually around their neighbourhoods. It has been happening for decades, but the scale has changed.
Now, if you order home deliveries from a wide range of well-known online, catalogue and high street retailers it is likely some of your goods will have spent some time in the boot of a lifestyle courier’s car.
The rise of lifestyle couriers has not been embraced by some full-time self-employed delivery drivers, who typically charge more to cover higher overheads, including specialist vehicles and insurance.
Home Internet Shopping Growth
Business-to-business is still dominant in the market but e-commerce will push the business-to-consumer side to match it in the next few years.
Now, most of the big parcel industry players also use lifestyle couriers to help them cope.
Them and Us
Peter Turner, spokesman for the Self Employed Owner Drivers Association UK, describes lifestyle couriers as “a pain in the neck!”
“If they didn’t exist there would be more work for the self-employed guy – it’s got to have a knock-on effect somewhere along the line.”Peter TurnerSpokesman for the Self Employed Owner Drivers Association UK
“Packet and parcel operators are, and always have been, very lightly regulated, although they must have a process in place to handle complaints.”Ofcom Spokesman
“Frankly, I think they have quite an uphill battle to prove their credibility but I don’t want to see the big heavy hand of regulation coming in yet again”Ian SeniorEconomist specialising in the postal industry
The fledgling profession is also criticised by some of those who claim to practise it.
Low wages are a frequent source of complaint on the internet forums that have sprung up dedicated to lifestyle couriers.
However, representatives of the industry, argues that remuneration is fair and competitive, with additional payments depending on the job as well as opportunities for drivers to negotiate their pay.
Level Playing Field
By contrast, postal regulator Ofcom admits lifestyle firms play by different rules.
“Packet and parcel operators are, and always have been, very lightly regulated, although they must have a process in place to handle complaints”, says a spokesman.
Ian Senior, an economist specialising in the postal industry, thinks the relative freedoms of the lifestyle market should be preserved, for now at least.
“Frankly, I think they have quite an uphill battle to prove their credibility but I don’t want to see the big heavy hand of regulation coming in yet again”, Mr Senior says.