Since demand has subsided, Mr Starr said weekend deliveries now only happen when parcel volume has been exceptionally high, which has been the case in Victoria since the state implemented its second lockdown.
Last week was Victoria’s biggest-ever week for online shopping in history, with purchases up 161 per cent when compared to the same week last year. Figures were also elevated in Sydney (up 73 per cent), Perth (up 51 per cent) and Brisbane (up 65 per cent).
Across the country, volumes are up 90 per cent, meaning the week was “very close” to the biggest-ever nationally, Mr Starr said.
Categories such as food and liquor, health and beauty, and home and gardening goods have been some of the most popular, with purchases doubling over the first three weeks of July.
Melburnians were quick to switch their shopping online once stay-at-home orders were re-introduced, with the 36 early lockdown “hotspot” suburbs doubling their purchases almost overnight. Those suburbs have continued to trend above the Victorian average.
“People got a taste for it in April, and now they are much more comfortable buying online,” Mr Starr said. “It’s quite amazing.”
Online shopping as a percentage of total retail spend was sitting around 11 per cent prior to COVID-19. Mr Starr now expects that number to be “well upwards” of 15 per cent following the pandemic.
“The number of frequent online shoppers has accelerated rapidly over the last 16 weeks,” he said. “So we expect this will be a new normal.”
Australia Post has also set up 16 pop-up parcel sorting facilities across the country to help deal with the heightened demand, along with chartering a number of additional planes with Qantas to facilitate the huge influx of parcels. If volumes continue to be elevated, Mr Starr expects some of the pop-up sites to be converted into permanent sites to help fulfil demand.
But despite a bumper year for parcels, the executive says the government-owned company’s full-year numbers are likely to be “modest” as the postal service weathers a continual decline in letter volumes, which led Australia Post to begin delivering letters every second day in metropolitan areas.
Increased costs will also be incurred for bringing the 16 pop-up sites online, as well as the hiring of additional aircraft and the implementation of social distancing measures in its facilities.
“There’s no question that we’ve seen significant growth and volumes in the parcel business, but at the same time we’ve seen an acceleration and in the decline of mail,” he said. “So it’s been a bit of a two-speed year.”
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Dominic Powell writes about the retail industry for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.