Today you can order basically anything online. Numbers show that each year consumers are ordering more products online. It is up to the Courier, express and parcel companies to enable an efficient process that is able to handle this wide range of items. But how? To figure out the solution, we should first dive deeper into the wide range of packets, parcels and rest mail.
Growing e-commerce increases the demand for packets and parcels delivery. This market has been growing in double digits (20.2% in 2019) the past few years. Even though this is expected to decelerate in 2020, the market is still projected to see 16.5% growth. With this increase in e-commerce parcels, the amount of rest mail (with China mail included) is growing as well. What used to be a small portion of the parcel bulk is now becoming a significant issue for many Courier, express and parcel (CEP) companies.
What is rest mail?
Rest mail used to be a small portion of all parcels and letters. Therefore it was handled and named as a leftovers category: rest mail. There were letters and there were parcels. Everything that fell in between these categories was considered rest mail. These could either be letters that were larger or heavier than the standard letters or parcels that were too small to be within the defined scope of parcels.
Today, however, a lot of parcels are quite small and often fit through your letterbox. If you have ever ordered spare parts for electronic devices, a case for your smartphone, or other small items online, chances are these were delivered directly through your letterbox. Some companies even made it their unique selling point to deliver through your letterbox (flowers, razors, and even wine). This is becoming the new face of rest mail. No more leftovers, it is time to take rest mail seriously.
The rise of rest mail
Consumer demand in the highly competitive e-commerce market has pushed on low shipping costs and fast delivery. When buying online we recognise this as free delivery and next-day (or same-day) delivery. This has changed the way consumers buy drastically. Instead of waiting with a purchase until multiple items can be combined and save on shipping costs, consumers buy more single items. And because delivery is often free or at very low costs, they even tend to do so for small expenses.
E-tailers in their turn are looking to drive down the packaging and shipping costs and therefore often package items as small as possible. These trends are creating a year-on-year increase in the amount of rest mail delivered. These small items are difficult to handle in a lot of distribution centers. The machines installed are not built for these small items. These could fall off the track or worse, get stuck inside a machine.
“No more leftovers, it is time to take rest mail seriously.”
It starts with the right data
By diving into the numbers on how often certain parcels pass through the center, it becomes clear which items can be seen as an exception and which are part of the requirement. Exceptions can be handled on a separate automation line or manually, depending on the throughput. By using this information as a starting point, you prevent looking for an all-in-one system and start searching for the solution that best fits your case. To get a grip on which data is important you can always check our guide on selecting the right sorting solution.
Remember to review industry trends as well and if these trends fit your company trends. Are you facing an increasing amount of rest mail as well? Is your parcel mix changing? What are the most important changes at your customers? By looking at trends on a larger scale you are able to identify challenges before they appear within your company.
By looking at your own parcel mix as well as the expected changes in the market, you make sure your system is not only relevant today, but also in the future. It also helps identify and determine flows more easily. This in turn makes it easier to select the right sorting solution for your process.
Sorting solutions to create an efficient flow
CEP companies that are facing these challenges have a number of options when it comes down to handling rest mail.
- Manual sorting
- One sorter (and optional manual handling of non-sortable items)
- Pre-sorting and separate sorters per-flow
It all starts with the flow. In previous steps, you have identified your parcel mix. Based on this information flows can be created.
1. Manual sorting
Manual sorting is the first approach. This method is often used as a starting point. However, it does have its limits and downfalls. It is a viable option if you’re handling small amounts, when labor is cheap or if enough warehouse space is available for expansion. However, these things are running scarce in an increasing amount of countries. A lot of companies are therefore looking at automation for answers.
2. Automation with one flow
This brings us to our second option: automation. This ensures there is enough capacity available to handle the current and projected flow of items. To ensure the flow of your rest mail and other parcels is running efficiently, you have a number of options. You might be able to automate the entire flow with one sorter, which is relevant if you have a narrow product mix that fits inside the scope of one system. If your DC only handles rest mail existing of small parcels and large letters, this could be the case.
3. Automation by separating flows
However, if your product mix is wide and divergent, pre-sorting could be necessary to streamline the process. Pre-sorting creates separate flows based on criteria like dimensions, weight, priority, or destination. This enables efficient handling of similar items. This can be done automatically with a singulator, DWS, and diverter. The flows can be automatically fed into a sorting machine which in its turn ensures all parcels are sorted by route or postal code.
A future proof solution
By reviewing your installation from a data-driven point of view you are able to create a future proof solution. With large projects like automation, the Return On Investment (ROI) is of great importance. By creating a system that is set for the future, you make sure the system gets the chance to achieve its ROI.
- Rest mail is a challenge for a lot of CEP companies
- Review current and available data to define your parcel mix
- Review industry trends and determine if they apply to your company to set out your plans for the following years
- Find out which flows should be created for efficient handling of parcels (consider an expert opinion from a system integrator or consultant)
- Start with your longlist of suppliers and integrators based on these criteria
Peter Voet is Sales director at Equinox MHE. He has been working in logistics for over 30 years, traveled around the world and visited tons of clients with all possible solutions and combinations. His strength lies in designing pragmatic solutions for complex challenges. Peter strives to find the solution that ticks all the boxes.