Booming Canadian e-commerce strives to cope with high demand

Tanya Petryshen (centre) with the Distributors’ Choice team at the company’s warehouse

Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

The consumer goods trade has changed drastically since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic. On the one hand, World Trade Organization expects a plunge in global trade of 13% to 32% in 2020 as the pandemic disrupts normal economic activity and life around the world. On the other hand, a large share of trade is moving online – COVID-19 Commerce Insight (ccinsight.org, see below) reports that, in April-May 2020, online activity in the North American retail was up more than two-fold as compared to the same period of 2019.

This surge of activity has put a strain on the e-commerce system: many buyers have had problems with delivery of online purchases – delivery is often delayed and items are sometimes lost.

To get a first-hand opinion of what is going on in the e-commerce these days, NP-UN turned to Tanya Petryshen who manages Distributors’ Choice Inc., a successful logistics company which operates out of its 30,000 square feet warehouse on Tomken Rd in Mississauga, ON.

It looks as if the whole e-commerce system wasn’t prepared for the kinds of volumes it is experiencing today. What is going on in the e-commerce in Canada?

Tanya Petryshen: What we have at the heart of the problem is that one quarter of the population is working at the moment while three quarters are ordering. The need to maintain physical distancing is making things even more complicated – in our warehouse we have to keep staff at a safe distance from each other, to wear masks and gloves and still pack all day. We’ve tried several types of masks and they’re all so hot to work in which strengthens the need for physical distancing. Our Canada Post representative has told us that, due to their high-volume backlog, we are now limited to shipping two outbound pallets only. While during this time we typically ship three pallets a day with Canada Post. As a result, we’ve moved some of our Canada Post shipments to a different courier to keep shipments moving. Our monthly volume with Canpar in May 2020 doubled as compared to May 2019. All this has created backlogs in the e-commerce system. I have a customer who ordered from China in November and the product is scheduled to land here on June 15. The backlog is just increasing over time instead of decreasing because most of the workforce is still off. Things are affected all over the world – suppliers and manufacturers are unable to get the resources they need to make their product and there is a domino effect. Even me, I waited three weeks for a courier shipment to come from Toronto to Mississauga. All e-commerce platforms are behind, some have put phone inquires on hold and are only doing chats online because they can’t keep with the requests coming in. For us it’s now busier than Christmas. To give you an example, we have a client who shipped maybe 80 orders a week. Now they’re shipping 200 a day. We are working two shifts here in our warehouse, which we’ve never done, and we have a sign out on the lawn “hiring”.

What are the prospects going forward for the e-commerce system?

Tanya Petryshen: This way of shopping, the online trade is going to continue. When all the stores open, initially they might get the rush. But I think many people are nervous, especially knowing that the second wave of COVID-19 is coming. Although people complain about staying home, they’ve gotten used to it as well. And they realize that they can wait a little bit longer for their product. We don’t see the e-commerce slowing down. I don’t know what’s going to happen to those plazas but eventually they will be empty and it will happen sooner than it would had there not been for this pandemic.

Are you planning new investments into development in this environment?

Tanya Petryshen: No, because the economic situation is still volatile, everything is unknown, nobody knows how long it will take us to rebound. They’re predicting it’s going to take a good two years. What if it takes four years? So you remain calm and you make very, very careful decisions on growth. That’s how we’ve been able to stay around so long – we really do our research and we take our time [Distributors’ Choice has been on the market for 27 years – NP-UN].