How Hermes UK pivoted from fashion to food delivery to serve pandemic-impacted customers
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How Hermes UK pivoted from fashion to food delivery to serve pandemic-impacted customers

GUEST COLUMN — June 2020
Chris Ashworth, UK CIO at logistics giant Hermes, describes the critical role IT played in a rapid reorientation of the business as societal needs shifted in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.

For the first two months of 2020, the technology team at Hermes UK, the country’s second largest consumer delivery company, was happily focussed on continuing its development of a rich product base designed to give consumers more choice to help our retailer customers to maintain their competitive edge. Of course, this abruptly changed in early March when it became clear that the impact of coronavirus had reached the UK.

At the beginning of the lockdown, we had to reset our focus to ensure we kept the company going. Despite the UK government’s early declaration that businesses like ours were vital in the response to the pandemic, there was a huge amount of information to process to ensure our operations were absolutely compliant. A number of our clients, mainly in the fashion sector, decided to pause trading and initially we saw a significant decrease in online shopping.

Yet, it was important for us to be fleet of foot. As a business we had never undertaken much food delivery but with supermarket shelves emptying because of panic buying and limited delivery slots it wasn’t long before we were being approached by food manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers who were also having to change their business models to focus on home deliveries. It was brilliant to be able to respond to such requests quickly and effectively, helping other businesses to navigate challenging times.

Chris Ashworth, CIO of Hermes UK
From the start, we were confident that we could alter our operations to keep our people and our customers safe, which was our primary focus. Some of the innovations that we had already developed in our app supported the need for contactless delivery, such as customers notifying us of a safe place to leave their items and for us to provide a photo to them as proof of delivery.

We also fast-tracked other products and features such as the introduction of MyPlaces, which allows customers to use What3Words to set an exact delivery location, adding PIN codes for access to their property, setting a preferred ParcelShop & Locker drop-off location and adding waypoints to their designated destination. All of these initiatives meant that consumers could stay at home yet safely obtain what they required.
Instant scaling

In the second week of the lockdown in the UK, our volumes rapidly increased and were soon at the levels we generally only see during the Christmas period. Normally we would have six months to plan for that peak period but this unprecedented build-up occurred in just six days. Fortunately, we had already decided to migrate our IT completely to the cloud and this had been completed by the end of February. It has given us the flexibility and ability to scale our operations up and down instantaneously, without the need for added capital expenditure.

Of course, that wasn’t the only IT challenge we faced. We have also had to source an additional 700 laptops at short notice to enable anyone who could do so to work from home; and we are also providing additional support for a number of our clients who have furloughed all non-essential IT staff. We had introduced video-conferencing across the business — via Microsoft Teams — earlier in the year and so this platform has supported our people to stay in touch and work effectively. This has given us the ability to keep the business stable, with workstreams and projects continuing uninterrupted.

Yes, it has been tough and the hours long but, in many ways, we are the lucky ones in the retail industry — people who still have a steady income. The future is still uncertain but my team have absolutely risen to the challenge and I couldn’t be prouder of them. We are determined not to stand still during the pandemic period and to continue to innovate so that we emerge from these difficult times — stronger than ever and wholly able to support our people and our clients.
First published June 2020
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