Swiss Post expects a new all-time record in December
Swiss Post is currently handling more parcels than ever before. Stefan Luginbühl is Head of Parcels National/International and responsible for the entire parcel processing operation at Swiss Post. He pulls out all the stops to prevent a parcel collapse. In this interview, he forecasts a new all-time record and provides an insight into his crystal ball.
Stefan Luginbühl, Swiss Post is accustomed to dealing with fluctuations. What is different this year?
Stefan Luginbühl: There are two things that will make this year go down as a genuine beacon in the 170-year history of Swiss Post. First, the number of parcels handled during the spring lockdown absolutely exploded. While we are used to dealing with fluctuations, increases are generally not nearly as steep. Second, the virus itself is playing a role. It leads to absences among our employees either because they are ill, self-isolating or caring for relatives. There is also a feeling of uncertainty among our staff, and we have to take this into account. The pandemic has also meant that we have needed to change long-established procedures and processes.
In what way?
It’s in the basic things: loading our yellow delivery vans, for example. Whereas several employees can load the vehicle with parcels in normal times, they have to do it with distance and wearing a mask. Bulky goods also present a challenge. Our employees are no longer able to lift small consignments or heavy parcels such as sofas or garden sheds in twos. New barriers have also been set up in the centers to ensure that everyone keeps a sufficient distance from one another. It is essential that our employees remain healthy. Without them, we simply can’t manage
What is different now compared to the lockdown?
No one expected a lockdown. The entire logistics industry faced challenges that no one had foreseen. Almost all cargo flights were grounded and huge quantities of parcels suddenly had be transported by land. Road containers, so-called swap bodies, were in short supply. We weren’t prepared for the explosion in parcel volumes. That is different now: in the coming weeks, we expect a massive rise in the number of parcels, but this time we are better prepared. We’ve been planning for this since May and have tried to take every conceivable measure to deal with the wave of parcels we know is coming.
You want to anticipate the number of parcels. How will this be possible?
We create simulations, like meteorologists do, which allow us to see when the number of parcels will exceed the capacity of our systems.
Meteorologists have air pressure and wind. What factors do you take into account?
Thanks to good cooperation with the retailers, we know when discount campaigns are planned and how many orders per day they expect to receive. Then we look at the figures for the same day the previous year. This allows us to forecast the number of parcels. We calculate this number for every single day. This shows us which peaks will exceed our capacities. Consequently, we know when we need accompanying measures so that we will be able to handle the parcels promptly. We then want to know whether the planned measures would be sufficient. We enter the data in the simulation and wait for the results. Current figures show that our forecasts are reliable. This only works, however, as long as people’s lives in Switzerland continue to be predictable. A new lockdown would skew the figures again.
So what are you expecting?
April was the most intense month in the 170-year history of Swiss Post – an all-time record. I fully expect us to break this monthly record again in December. It will be a massive challenge, but as we can prepare for it, I have a good feeling.
You talk about “accompanying measures”. Essentially, you could simply recruit more staff and everything would be fine.
That is far too shortsighted. It’s true that the number of hands is an important factor, but we also need systems, sorting capacity. The systems cannot operate round the clock, so they are a limiting factor. There is also the issue of the swap bodies, the big yellow containers on the trucks, and the roll boxes in which the parcels are transported. They are part of an endless loop. The wholesalers fill them, trucks bring them to us in the parcel centers where they are unloaded and then they get returned. In recent months, we’ve procured over five thousand boxes and several hundred new containers. But they are not easy to get hold of. Almost everyone needs more of them.
So what is the solution?
We’ve put together a whole range of measures based on our experience of the first lockdown. Staff in letter sorting centers will make an important contribution to managing fluctuations in parcel volumes over the coming weeks. Like during lockdown, they’ll be sorting around 150,000 small parcels every day. Together with the three new regional parcel centers (Cadenazzo, Ostermundigen and Vétroz), the newly opened parcel center in Untervaz can handle around 160,000 parcels per day, and this increases our capacity. We’ve also set up so-called pre-sorting centers. Here, our staff separate parcels so that they are taken directly to the right parcel center and don’t need to be ferried back and forth between centers. The major customers also play an important role. They sort their goods per region or per size so that bulky goods, for example, are taken directly to Pratteln where we process them.
And if all that is not enough?
We have other measures up our sleeves and would have to work over the weekends, but we don’t want to impose that just yet. Our staff have some strenuous weeks ahead and can’t take any holidays. They need to be able to recover. We can only deliver parcels on time if staff remain healthy.
What would be the worst-case scenario for you?
If we were forced to close a parcel center for quarantine reasons. That is why our protection measures go beyond the directives of the Federal Office of Public Health.
What would happen if your worst-case scenario came true?
If a parcel center were nevertheless to close, we are in discussions with the Federal Office for Civil Protection to ensure that the civil defence workers would step in.