Courier service sector trends

Male courier wearing a blue uniform holding two cardboard boxes in front of a yellow van

(last updated July 2019)

Changes in demand

Many courier firms used to rely on demand for the rapid (same day) delivery of important documents as a large source of their work. However, modern communication technology (email, video conferencing and so on) has reduced this demand in recent years. As a result, some firms have been forced to look elsewhere for work and have in many cases turned their attention towards delivering more bulky packages. This sector of the market is still growing, with internet shopping and mail order leading to more goods being delivered straight to customers' homes. Goods ordered over the internet or by mail order are expected to arrive within a few days and courier firms are often chosen to deliver them.

eBay itself provides a huge amount of potential work for couriers, and a growing number have tailored their services to meet demand from buyers and sellers all over the country. Some bid for delivery jobs through specialist websites like Shiply.

Technological developments

It has become easier for customers - including private individuals - to book and use courier services too. There are a number of specialist parcel booking websites that enable people to book parcel collection and delivery services online, while networks such as PayPoint Collect+ make it easy to send or return a parcel from - or arrange for a parcel to be delivered to - a local shop.

Web communications technology also enables senders and recipients to track their consignment's progress in real time.

The economy

After several years of good economic growth, the late 2000s saw the economy suffer a sharp downturn. Very difficult conditions continued into the early 2010s. This wasn't all bad news for couriers though - while Britain's high streets suffered, the online shopping market continued to grow as shoppers looked to the web to find bargains and save money. Huge growth in smartphone ownership also boosted e-commerce as more and more people used their mobiles to buy things online.

2013 saw the economy show signs of picking up at last, with some suggesting that a recovery was just around the corner.

Fuel prices

One cloud on the horizon that's likely to continue affecting the courier industry is the rising cost of motoring. Fuel prices keep rising well ahead of inflation each year, while 'pay as you drive' road pricing seems more and more likely to be introduced on major roads in the future.

Increasing numbers of courier firms

Government statistics show that the number of firms involved in courier activities has risen in recent years. This indicates that the demand for courier services is strong, but it also means that you will face stiff competition.

Bear in mind that although there may still be plenty of delivery work available, you may have difficulty attracting customers in the face of competition from established local businesses and high profile national firms.

So think carefully about whether:

  • there is sufficient demand in your area to support your proposed business
  • you will be able to compete against other businesses offering delivery services
  • it will be best to start out by undertaking freelance courier work

Keeping up to date with developments

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up to date with developments in your industry.

The Despatch Association is an independent trade association for the courier industry. It protects the interests of its members and raises the profile of the industry nationally. It provides various benefits for members including model terms of trade and conditions of carriage, a code of practice for drivers and networking and insurance facilities. Members also receive a free subscription to Despatches Magazine to help keep up to date with industry news. You can contact the Despatch Association through their website.

Subscribing to a trade journal is another excellent way of staying up to date. Courier News is a trade journal dedicated to the express delivery and same-day courier industry.

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