Couriers keeping distance from customers during coronavirus outbreak

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 18, 2020 6:06 AM CT | Published: March 18, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

A reported surge in e-commerce is putting couriers and delivery drivers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak.

As more people hunker down at home and order supplies online, FedEx and other carriers are taking steps to keep delivery personnel a safe distance from customers.

Amazon is preparing for a major uptick in e-commerce by hiring 100,000 more people and temporarily raising pay because of COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, March 17.

FedEx said Tuesday its domestic parcel unit FedEx Ground’s business was strong because of coronavirus.

“Our largest retail customers’ volumes are rising as social distancing efforts are encouraging consumers to shop from home,” chief marketing and communications officer Brie Carere said.

It was reportedly seeing an uptick in e-commerce in parts of the country, but details weren’t immediately available.

FedEx has dispensed with signature requirements for most deliveries by FedEx Express and FedEx Ground, and UPS has developed a protocol that keeps drivers from coming in direct contact with customers.

FedEx couriers also are being issued gloves, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes.

The changes are designed to help couriers stay at least 6 feet away from customers – the minimum distance prescribed by health authorities for a safe distance to prevent virus transmission.

“As part of our effort to keep our team members and customers safe, and prevent the spread of COVID-19, FedEx is temporarily suspending most signatures typically required for FedEx Express and FedEx Ground deliveries in the U.S. and Canada,” FedEx spokeswoman Bonny Harrison said.

“The signature suspension also includes those normally required as part of our same-day service, as well as in our FedEx Office retail stores and onsite locations at various retailers,” Harrison said.

Onsite locations at Walgreens, Dollar General and Kroger stores are store-staffed counters where packages can be picked up, dropped off or held.

Signatures are still being requested for shipments containing regulated commodities. “This is a very small percentage of deliveries though in the grand scheme of things,” Harrison said.

Signatures aren’t required for a “vast majority” of UPS packages, and UPS has come up with “work-around” to put distance between drivers and customers, spokesman Glenn Zaccara said.

“For business and residential customers where a signature is required to ensure proper record keeping, we have a work-around that involves having the driver place a ‘sticky-note Info Notice’ to be signed by the recipient. Once signed, the driver collects the Info Notice and confirms the shipment electronically. All this can be done while practicing social distancing protocols recommended by health authorities,” Zaccara said.

Couriers have a relatively higher than average incidence of exposure to disease and infections, about once a week, according to an analysis by The New York Times of jobs that put workers at risk of exposure to disease. However, couriers are in the middle of the pack in terms of jobs that require close contact with other people during daily routines, the Times found.

Harrison said FedEx’s procedure change “is meant to help protect our team members and customers by preventing exchange of the signature equipment at the point of delivery and keeping them at a safe social distance from each other consistent with social distancing guidelines from the WHO (World Health Organization).”

“Details of this change in our guidelines will be communicated in the coming days,” Harrison said on Monday, March 16.

Experts have fallen into two camps on how coronavirus will affect e-commerce business.

Industry website Marketing Land said, “One bullish scenario argues that consumers will shift more and more purchases online as they avoid public places, with Amazon, delivery services and the online divisions of major retailers (e.g., Target, Walmart) as the biggest beneficiaries. Indeed, foot traffic in shopping malls is down.

“However, supply chain issues, product shortages and potentially declining consumer demand could also blunt e-commerce growth – if the economy falters or goes into recession,” it said.

Topics

FedEx UPS coronavirus shipping industry social distancing
Wayne Risher

Wayne Risher

Business news reporter, 43-year veteran of print journalism, 35-year resident of Memphis, University of Georgia alumnus and proud father and spouse of University of Memphis graduates.


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