A case for the courier

Friday, 12 June, 2020
wine.co.za, Trudie Webb
During the nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol, loyal wine lovers showed support by ordering their most-loved wines despite not being able to receive their goods. With the announcement that the country would be moving to alert level 3 on 1 June, online wine sales skyrocketed, putting enormous pressure on online retailers and couriers to deliver fast enough to meet consumers' demands.

The initial 3 week liquorless lockdown saw many stockpile on wine supplies to see them through a few weeks. With the ban on alcohol sales lasting another 2 months, many became desperate to restock as their wine supply was running low. Online wine retailer, wine.co.za, saw wine orders coming in on a weekly basis since the start of South Africa's lockdown but the last week leading up to the start of alert level 3, permitting the sale of wine and other spirits again, saw unprecedented online wine sales.

Working through a 2 month long backlog of orders is no easy task and all initial preparations to cope with the backlog seemed futile when the surge of orders came flooding in over the last few days of May. Warehouses were nearly empty, following wine sales just before the lockdown started on 17 March and with the transport of alcohol being banned, there was no way to move stock before 1 June. Permission was then given to producers to transport wines to retailers from Friday, the 29th of May, but an increase in sales of up to 400% for some retailers created a a few logistical problems.

National Wine Manager of Aramex South Africa, André Cronjé, says "everybody expected their wine deliveries the day after lockdown was lifted, but unfortunately it might take up to 2 weeks to catch up and get ahead of the game."

"We normally ship between 1000 and 1500 cases of wine weekly, during normal busy periods. Since last week we have collected over 20 000 cases already. This has led to enormous constraints on our re-work space and we had to rent extra floor space outside Stellenbosch just to scan, document and pallet wrap all the shipments before sending it to the various destinations", Cronjé explains. The result has been bottlenecks at the major hubs such as Johannesburg and Pretoria.

On when the backlog will be cleared up, Kevin Kidson, co-owner of wine.co.za and CellarDirect comments: "The backlog of orders made during the last weeks of Level 4 combined with the regulations limiting the movement of alcohol has put huge pressure on the courier services. We are currently experiencing about a 7 working day delay. Compounding the wine deliveries is the fact that every other industry has experienced a huge increase in volumes and you will realize why the courier service is just not keeping up right now. wine.co.za has been working with them and we have seen an increase in their capacity so we expect this tsunami to be over by the end of next week."

Marcel Louw of Seabourne Express said that a challenging factor is level 3 regulations which only allows them to deliver alcohol  from Monday to Thursday between 9am and 5pm. He said that at the start of last week they had various industries starting to ship back log orders and all orders received during the lockdown period. Claude le Roux from Seabourne has commented on strategies and resources implemented to clear the backlog, such as acquiring additional warehouse space and sourcing additional reliable owner drivers capable of handling wine deliveries. They have also implemented 24-hour shifts for their team.

"This is a learning curve for us all. We're doing as much as we can but we are having to adapt literally on a daily basis," says le Roux.

The online shopping experience is definitely different from a visit to the store, and so are customer expectations. But it seems as if though in a time when the country has come together and shown amazing understanding, compassion and patience towards everyone having to adapt and learn how to function through the most unusual of circumstances, they still have not learned that same patience and compassion towards the e-commerce industry. Granted that good communication is always one of the most important rules of business and that promised delivery times should always try to be honoured under normal working conditions, perhaps, taking everything into account, and knowing that there are teams working around the clock to make deliveries, rules can be eased up a little to allow for the storm to pass.

Cronjé says, "we love the challenge and will definitely ensure that all wine shipments are delivered very soon." When you receive your wines, raise a glass to the courageous courier who got it there.