Ah, Christmas, a time for giving and receiving. Or perhaps not. The industrial action planned by Royal Mail workers over pay and working conditions does not just threaten to play havoc with Christmas card deliveries, it is also a big problem for the countless small enterprises whose trade depends so heavily on seasonal gifts and who have traditionally relied on the Royal Mail parcel-delivery business.
However, there are a number of rival firms available for retailers to use, which was not the case in the days before the industry was liberalised, and the biggest of these, which goes by the name of Evri, has been busy advertising this fact.
In October, Evri launched a campaign under the headline ‘Supporting you during the Royal Mail postal strikes’, and which boasted: ‘We’ll get your parcels there. We offer low cost-deliveries. We’re trusted. Many of the UK’s top retail brands — including Next, John Lewis and M&S — have chosen Evri as their dependable partner.’
Well, more fool them. Or, perhaps more accurately: how disappointing that such reputable brands have, presumably on grounds of cost, inflicted on us, their customers, a firm which has repeatedly come bottom of surveys for reliability.
The industrial action planned by Royal Mail workers over pay and working conditions does not just threaten to play havoc with Christmas card deliveries, it is also a big problem for the countless small enterprises whose trade depends so heavily on seasonal gifts and who have traditionally relied on the Royal Mail parcel-delivery business
For the second year running, Citizens Advice revealed that Evri had come bottom in its ‘parcel league table’, with an overall score of 1.5 out of a possible five stars. To be fair, it just managed to avoid bottom place in the most recent Which? survey of ‘the Best and Worst Delivery Companies’. Amazon Logistics was the winner; Royal Mail came second.
You want more detail? The customer resolution firm Resolver received almost 61,000 complaints about Evri over the past 12 months, with disputes soaring over the Christmas period of 2021. Its rival DPD received 7,083 in the same 12-month period, and even Yodel (which actually came bottom in the Which? survey) recorded only 1,790 such complaints.
But, I hear you saying, what about Hermes — aren’t they the most complained-about delivery firm?
The customer resolution firm Resolver received almost 61,000 complaints about Evri over the past 12 months, with disputes soaring over the Christmas period of 2021 [File photo]
Readers might even recall a column I wrote about my own experiences with Hermes over the Christmas period three years ago, detailing our own farcical experiences.
On multiple occasions we would receive a text saying, ‘Your parcel has been delivered and posted through your letterbox’, when it had not been delivered and couldn’t have been put through our letter-box — as we don’t have one.
Then there would be what purported to be a photo of the package safely delivered … but invariably this would be an image of perfect blackness. That did, at least, illustrate our mood as we tried unavailingly to find someone to talk to at Hermes. (No humans are ever available, only ‘chatbots’, repeated encounters with which can make you lose the will to live.)
Now, the explanation: in March this year Hermes UK ‘rebranded’ as Evri. This might have been a wise move by its new owners, the U.S. private equity firm Advent, which acquired the operation, with its annual turnover of almost £1.5 bn and profits of £117 million, from the German group Otto in August 2020.
The Hermes name had become particularly toxic (or should have) after a Times journalist working undercover in one of its delivery centres in the run-up to Christmas last year exposed the chaos, carelessness and contempt with which customers’ parcels were being treated.
‘Managers watched as workers threw parcels across a depot … sending many of them clattering into hard cages, against walls or on the floor,’ it reported.
‘One manager admitted that in the chaotic run-up to Christmas, shoppers were paying for next-day deliveries with no chance of those being fulfilled,’ the report continued. ‘Couriers were encouraged to mislead customers and ‘act stupid’ if faced with complaints.
‘Describing an affluent area with large, gated houses, one driver said: ‘You’ve got to wait for the c***s to open it. Best thing to do is f***ing chuck it over the gate.’
Well, our house is approached via a wooden five-bar gate, and we’d actually regard it as progress if an over-pressed Evri delivery driver chucked a parcel meant for us over that gate — on time. At least we would then have got it, even if the packaging had been reduced to a soggy mush, soaked by the elements.
Instead, a series of packages ordered by my wife, including a dress for our younger daughter to wear as a bridesmaid at a cousin’s wedding, arrived long after the due date and after numerous complaints.
I had a slightly different Evri experience last week. Expecting a delivery of clothes from Uniqlo (yes, another reputable retailer which puts its trust in them), I received an email with a photo purporting to show the package ‘in your post box’. Yes, that looked like my package — but it was not my post box, or one I recognised at all. The message also invited me to ‘rate your delivery’, from one to five stars. Unfortunately it did not offer the chance to give ‘no stars’ — the appropriate number in such circumstances.
And, as usual, it was quite impossible to contact anyone at Evri to complain, as the email specified ‘no reply’, and I had no desire to renew my acquaintance with the firm’s legion of bots.
Well, our house is approached via a wooden five-bar gate, and we’d actually regard it as progress if an over-pressed Evri delivery driver chucked a parcel meant for us over that gate — on time. At least we would then have got it, even if the packaging had been reduced to a soggy mush, soaked by the elements [File photo]
Fortunately, a few days later, I received an email from someone living half a mile away, with a postal code very similar to ours. He wrote: ‘It is a while since we have communicated but Evri clearly thinks we should speak. We have had a parcel for you dumped at our gate.’
And, indeed, the last time we had communicated was when Evri — or Hermes, as it was then called — had dumped something meant for us over the gate of this gentleman’s house.
Not wishing to repeat this experience, my wife decided to ask that our next Evri delivery be made to the nearest supermarket to us, about 15 minutes’ drive away. And yes, you’ve guessed it; even that Tesco branch was apparently impossible for Evri to find.
Now, it may be that the driver or drivers who do Evri deliveries in our area are especially hopeless. A firm which delivers ‘two million packages a day’ is bound to have some duds — such as the one in Leicester who was caught photographing a parcel he had placed by a property’s gate, before picking it up and putting it in his car boot (theft, in other words).
Yet to judge from reports in local papers in many other parts of the country, our experiences are far from exceptional.
In short, the Evri experience is every bit as bad as the Hermes one which preceded it. This (not exactly surprising) fact has given rise to countless posts on the social media, playing on the new name for the same old service: ‘Because Evri day their reputation manages to get worse?’ ‘Because Evri time I see they’re delivering my parcel, my heart sinks?’
That last one certainly resonated with me. And I wonder why firms such as John Lewis and Uniqlo (the two whose deliveries via Evri have most often failed to reach us) continue to ‘put their trust’ in this consistently underperforming delivery giant.
Actually, I don’t wonder that much: it’s almost certainly because Evri is cheaper than a rival such as DPD, which consistently comes higher in the annual delivery company league tables.
Indeed, Evri has a campaign seeking to attract new business under the headline ‘Cheap Parcel Delivery Service’, and which shows the extent to which they undercut Royal Mail. For items between 5 and 10kg, it offers a price of £6.36, while Royal Mail charges £6.95.
Wow, a 59p saving. I’d far rather pay the extra and have Royal Mail deliver — if only its own workforce weren’t preparing more industrial action.