May 29, 2014, 5:26 PM

U.K. retailers struggle to keep up with an influx of online orders

For the first time in more than a year, the percentage of on-time deliveries dropped below the level achieved in the same month in the previous year.

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More shoppers in the United Kingdom are buying online, which means the number of shipments jumped for the first four months of the year compared to the same period a year earlier, says the IMRG MetaPack U.K. Delivery Index. This report tracks package volume and delivery success metrics for more than 220 e-retailers and more than 4.5 million orders a month.

U.K. online merchants struggled to keep up. For the first time in more than a year, the percentage of on-time deliveries (92.6%) fell below the level achieved for the same month in the previous year. That’s likely due to “unprecedented volumes,” along with holidays that may have delayed some deliveries, IMRG says. IMRG did not disclose the percentage of on-time delivery in April 2013, but the on-time delivery rate in March 2013 was 94.0%.

"This sudden surge in online retail has caught the industry by surprise,” says Angela O'Connell, marketing and strategy director at MetaPack. “As retailers have worked extremely hard to deliver orders, there does seem to have been an impact on customer experience from a dip in on-time orders. This underlines the need for more innovation and flexibility in how retailers work with carriers and plan and manage their deliveries to customers.”

IMRG expects the package volume to continue to rise; it revised its forecast for delivery volume growth for the remainder of the year from 12.5% to between 16.0% and 19.0%. That translates to U.K. retailers sending out roughly 940 million packages this year.

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