Snow: Will bad weather hamper Christmas deliveries?
- 17 December 2010
- From the section Business
Wine is as much a part of Christmas as mistletoe and children singing Christian rhyme - so sang Sir Cliff Richard.
But this year, the journey from vineyard to the Christmas dinner table is being hampered by the wintry weather which has made many roads in the UK impassable.
Family-run wine merchants Berry Bros and Rudd have been selling wine to customers since 1698, but the lessons learnt from much more recent experiences are proving vital now.
"The snow that hit us earlier in the year is still fresh in everyone's mind," says operations director Keith Procter, amid thousands of bottles in the business's Basingstoke warehouse.
"It means we are now pushing harder to get orders out - putting in extra hours, hiring temporary labour and pushing things through in a shorter period of time."
Not least, the staff Christmas party will be held in January.
One glance at the statistics and it is clear why wine merchants such as Berrys need to be successful in fulfilling orders at this time of year.
Some 120,000 bottles a week are delivered across the world - primarily in the UK - in December. That is about 40% higher than a typical week during the rest of the year.
Fifteen people, and some extra agency staff, work in the warehouse, known as the "engine room" of the business.
Employees in their high-visibility jackets pick bottles from the shelves with the mental catalogue and dexterity of a librarian before labelling and filling boxes. The sirens from fork-lift trucks provide the soundtrack to their work.
These bottles - ranging from £3 to many thousands of pounds each - are often chosen specifically by customers ordering through the website.
It is very different from the shop sale of tea, coffee and exotic spices when the business was first established.
But snow can challenge even the most technologically-advanced systems.
Mr Procter explains that the guarantee of delivery to Scotland in time for Christmas has already been suspended owing to the difficulties for drivers, who are already working on Sundays to try to get orders out on time.
Previously, the deadline would have been Monday, 20 December, as it is for the rest of the UK. Warnings of 20cm of snow and advice against all but essential travel have hit deliveries to Scotland.
It is not just wine merchants who have been affected.
The Royal Mail is putting on 7,000 delivery rounds this Sunday in a bid to ease the backlog of Christmas deliveries.
Couriers say they are doing all they can to deliver presents in time.
"The roads have been treacherous for our drivers to work on," says Alisa Webb, regional director of TNT Express.
"Obviously we have to pay heed to health and safety, and everyone can only do their very best."
A spokesman for Debenhams said: "We have been advising people to order online as soon as possible. We are waiting to see how the weather is over the weekend, but we cannot guarantee deliveries for orders made from now onwards."
Others say that they have also been having to deal with a backlog of deliveries from the previous spell of icy weather.
Top of the wish-list for Mr Procter - along with a bottle of his favourite Cote Rotie red - at a time of snowfall is well gritted roads.
The business uses its own fleet of small vans, as well as packing lorries, which then head to a transport hub for delivery by parcel couriers.
But it is not just the delivery businesses that are changing their tactics to try to counteract the weather.
Mr Procter says that consumers in recent years have become more comfortable with the online ordering process. As a result, they have been placing their orders closer and closer to Christmas.
But in the last few weeks, there has been a surge in orders for next-day delivery, as customers worry their bottle of claret for Christmas Day or something sparkling for New Year could get stuck in transit.
With bad weather forecast for much of the country in the coming days, customers could end up raising a glass to the delivery drivers out on the roads if their wine orders arrive in time.