As rotating Canada Post Corp. strikes drag on across the country, many small-business owners are turning to alternative shipping companies out of fear even the slightest delay will make customers unhappy.
Alternative shippers such as eShipper, ShipTime Inc. and Chit Chats are reporting a significant uptick in business since Canada Post workers began rotating strikes in various cities across Canada on Oct. 22. In the meantime, some business owners are watching their recently shipped Canada Post packages sit idle, based on online tracking reports.
While the strikes have only lasted one or two days in select cities, business owners today are less willing to deal with potential delays given an increased focus on shipping speed and customer satisfaction. “Small businesses have expectations and commitments to meet,” said Mo Datoo, director of strategy and planning at eShipper, which offers small businesses the option to ship using a range of carriers from Canada Post to Federal Express.
“It’s a consumer’s world right now. … They want their packages yesterday. When delays happen, there’s a risk the customer will bash them online or complain and ask for a refund, which could be a revenue loss.”
Mr. Datoo estimates about 5-to-10 per cent of shipments his company sends out have been shifted from Canada Post to other carriers such as FedEx Corp., United Parcel Service, DHL Express and Canpar.
While some services can be more expensive than Canada Post depending on where the package is going and how fast, some business owners want certainty to maintain their reputation, especially those selling through e-commerce sites where they are rated on customer service.
Andrea Stairs, general manager for eBay Canada and Latin America, said in a statement e-mailed to The Globe and Mail that the company “has proactively taken measures to ensure our sellers are not penalized for late shipments due to the labour disruption.” Ms. Stairs points to an Oct. 17 eBay announcement that asks sellers on its platform to consider increasing handling time to manage buyers’ expectations and add alternative shipping options such as UPS, Purolator Inc. and FedEx. The online firm also told businesses that it’s monitoring and adjusting estimated delivery dates and money-back guarantee timelines “to ensure that you are not penalized for late shipments due to the labour disruption. If the threatened disruption occurs, we will contact your impacted buyers in Canada and the U.S to inform them of possible delays.”
Amazon.com, Inc. also wrote to its sellers last week suggesting they update shipping settings to increase handling time and consider using alternative carriers “to minimize this event’s impact on your seller performance ratings.” Shopify also suggested “using another shipping provider such as UPS, FedEx and Canpar,” while Etsy and eBay each specifically mentioned Chit Chats, a freight forwarding company. Chit Chats gives Canadians access to U.S.-based postal services by driving parcels, envelopes and letters valued at under US$800 to the U.S. carriers at rates they say are cheaper than if mailed in Canada.
Chit Chats communications manager Juhee Cha says the company has seen a fourfold increase in the number of new-user signups and three times the number of service inquiries through phone and e-mail since the 72-hour strike notice was given on Oct. 16. Shipping volumes have increased by about 30 per cent since the strike began on Oct. 22. The shipper has also been doing its own marketing push during the strike, boosting its online advertising spending and promoting itself as “an alternative to Canada Post.”
Nikkita Samarin started using Chit Chats to ship products for her company since Canada Post workers nearly went on strike in 2016.
“It was two years ago when I said, ‘I can’t deal with this any more, I am way too stressed out,’” said Ms. Samarin, the business manager and co-producer of Romantically Apocalyptic, a company created out of a graphic novel by her husband Vitaly Alexius. They sell the self-published version of the book as well as art prints from the comic and paraphernalia such as mugs and T-shirts to fans around the world.
Ms. Samarin said she was also frustrated by rising prices at Canada Post that she had to pass on to her customers, who weren’t pleased. She said it costs about $20 to send a softcover book to England with Canada Post. With Chit Chats, she can send the same book for about $9.
“Even when we ate some of the costs to make it more attractive, Canada Post is still expensive,” she said. “People in Europe and in the U.S. are used to such cheap shipping.”
Toronto retailer Julie Yoo initially stuck with Canada Post for her online shipments when the strike started, believing there would at least be some movement on packages.
But Ms. Yoo, owner of Toronto-based I Miss You Vintage Inc., which sells clothing and accessories, said packages she dropped off on Sunday and Monday last week sat for about two or three days at the depot before being shipped to a nearby Canada Post sorting facility, according to the online tracking system. She’s “hoping that the rolling strike doesn’t come back and affect Toronto before these make it across the border.”
To prevent further delays, Ms. Yoo is now preparing new orders using FedEx, including a package to California that would have cost her about $25 with Canada Post and will cost about $36 using FedEx. “It’s not a huge amount to absorb considering customer satisfaction and trying to maintain timely delivery,” she said.