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Business

Online retailers slip on deliveries

Christmas is the time of big money for online retail - this year record turnover was expected. But with extreme snow across Europe, Father Christmas might just not be able to get to customers in time this year.

A German postal worker pushes her cart through mud and snow in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart

Some communities in Germany are only clearing main roads this year

This year's holiday shopping season was supposed to generate record online retail sales across Europe - from food deliveries to presents.

British online retail association IMRG estimates a rise in sales for December by 16 percent to 6.4 billion pounds (7.5 billion euros). For 2010, Germany expects some 18.3 billion euros in online sales, up 18 percent.

No food deliveries to Scotland

Man driving his team of Siberian Huskies on a snowy road near Wilton, southern England (Photo: U.K. Ministry of Defence)

Some British companies have stopped their trucks from travelling up to Scotland

However, with winter having hit Europe early and heavily this year, some online retailers are now feeling the effects of snow-blocked roads. Especially hard hit are the British Isles. Few Tesco delivery trucks are able to make their rounds due to snowy streets. On its mail-order website, the giant British food retailer is informing customers that it is currently unable to take any new orders in Scotland, among other regions.

Marks and Spencer's is also issuing regular weather updates on its homepage. And like Tesco, the food and clothing retailer has also temporarily suspended orders from Scotland. "I think customers will not want to risk things and will go to local shops instead of buying online," Natalie Berg from the industry analyst Planet Retail told Financial Times Deutschland.

Snowed-in side streets in Germany

Wrapped gifts

Plenty of presents are still en route across Europe

Germany is also affected. More than 80,000 mail carriers across Germany have to walk across unplowed streets. Conditions differ considerably from community to community,

"Some communities are simply not clearing side streets this year," Anke Baumann, a spokeswoman from German postal service Deutsche Post/ DHL, told Deutsche Welle. "That means our mail carriers have to walk back and forth through the snow carrying single parcels every time because they can't even push carts through the snow."

Deutsche Post is promising customers in Germany that parcels dropped off by noon on December 22 will be delivered by December 24, Christmas Eve. "That's a promise we're doing our best to fulfil," said Baumann who, in the same breath, warned:" it might just be impossible in individual cases to stick to it."

Deutsche Post has expanded its operating hours to cope with the adverse weather conditions. Parcels ordered from online retailer Amazon, for instance, will be delivered on the Sunday before Christmas - an exception in Germany where business traditionally comes to a standstill on Sundays. Nevertheless, Amazon Germany is advising customers to check their order status online because, as a company spokesperson told Deutsche Welle, "delays of one or two days are currently likely to occur."

Germany's biggest mail-order clothing retailer Otto declined to comment whether goods were being delivered on time.

Twice as many parcels

A Deutsche Post employee loading parcels into trucks in Berlin (Photo: Franka Bruns/ AP)

More goods ordered online and Christmas coming up: postmen hardly ever get a break this year

The festive season traditionally sees a hike in the number of parcels delivered every year. And this year is no exception, thanks largely to the growing popularity of purchasing merchandise online. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the number of parcels delivered daily in Germany this year has already increased from an average 2.5 million to about 5 million. "And it's going to be even more in the last week before Christmas," said Baumann.

While Germany has struggled with snowed-in side streets and temporarily closed airports to keep deliveries moving, Britain doesn't seem to be prepared for continuous frost and snow at all. The country lacks snowploughs to clear roads. In Edinburgh, in fact, the army has been called in to help clear streets.

The country's postal service, Royal Mail, is investing 20 billion pounds to be able to handle the Christmas mail and parcels.

Shop while you wait

Female hands holding a brown parcel. (Photo: Fotolia)

An exception for Christmas: Parcels are being delivered also on Sundays in Germany

Harsh weather conditions have generally been understood to spur online sales because customers can shop comfortably from home. With the expected delays this year, however, experts say some customers might refrain from ordering online this shopping season.

Current conditions demonstrate how sensitive online retail is to adverse weather conditions. Online shopping is still for now more popular in Britain than it is in Germany but it is becoming rapidly popular in Europe's largest economy. Some of the increase, interestingly, is attributed to smartphone users who like to use their downtime to shop online with their phones.

Poinsettias still available

Online orders have also increased for Fleurop. Germany's largest flower mail-order service operates a network of 8,000 florists nationwide. That dense network shortens distances between florists and customers, ensuring swift delivery. But in extreme weather conditions, flights can be delayed or cancelled altogether.

Occasionally, Fleurop florists have to warn customers that a certain flower might not be deliverable on time. But a spokesperson from Fleurop told Deutsche Welle that, so far, it has not been forced to issue a warning for the popular Christmas plant poinsettia – which is still readily available across Germany.

Author: Nina Haase
Editor: John Blau

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