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Royal Mail is to trial Sunday parcel deliveries for major retailers amid an online shopping boom. Internet sales were already on the up before the coronavirus crisis, but the pandemic caused huge growth in 2020.

Royal Mail said the trial would open the door to parcel deliveries seven days a week. The postal service has been hit by coronavirus delays, but a spokesperson said it was “working hard” to make deliveries.

Royal Mail said an increasing number of customers were shopping online and expected to get their purchases as soon as possible after placing their orders. It said that “a number of retail brands are trialling the service” but declined to name them as yet.

Rivals such as DPD and Hermes already make Sunday deliveries for major retailers such as Amazon. Nick Landon, chief commercial officer at Royal Mail, said: “The last year has reset so many customer expectations and the desire for even more convenient and even more frequent parcel deliveries has certainly been one of them.”

Royal Mail said it had “processed unprecedented parcel volumes” in the past year as non-essential retailers were closed during lockdowns. However, its customers were hit with postal delays over Christmas due to “exceptional” volumes of post, while delays continued into the New Year as its workforce was affected by Covid-19.

The postal service still has advice on its website about delays which says: “Some areas of the country may experience a reduction in service levels due to higher volumes of mail, the ongoing impact of Covid-related staff absences and necessary social distancing measures at local mail centres and delivery offices.”

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Our first priority throughout this pandemic has been the safety of our people and our customers.

“We have worked hard to deliver the most comprehensive service we can, including retaining around 10,000 temporary workers to help us deal with the increased demand.”

In addition, Royal Mail is building a second parcel hub in Daventry, which will be larger than its existing hub in Warrington, to meet the growth in demand, it said.

“Once complete, the new hub will be the size of more than 10 football pitches and have the capacity to process over one million parcels per day, making it the largest Royal Mail parcel hub in the UK,” the firm said in a statement.

Royal Mail piloted Sunday parcel deliveries in 2014, but took the decision not to roll out that service. The Royal Mail spokesperson said: “We were early adopters with the 2014 Sunday trial, which was limited to within the M25 area.

“Since that time, there has been a seismic change in consumers’ online behaviours.” The spokesperson said that customers were making more online purchases than ever before and expected deliveries seven days a week.

“This trial is responding to those changing demands for even higher levels of convenience across the UK,” the spokesperson added.

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “With the e-commerce boom continuing through the latest lockdown, online shoppers have come to expect seven-days-a-week delivery as standard.

“Launching a Sunday delivery service is clearly an attempt to seize the moment and capitalise on the snowballing momentum the group has picked up over the past four months.

“This week, Royal Mail again upgraded its profits forecasts because of the surge in home deliveries and renaissance of letter writing during the pandemic.”

However, Ms Streeter said that whether it would be a success or not “is far from signed, sealed and delivered”, adding that there had “long been under-investment in automation” in the service.

“Royal Mail needs to show it has the capacity to meet this unprecedented demand.”

Julie Palmer, partner at Begbies Traynor, said: “This expansion into Sunday parcel deliveries will certainly be a challenge for Royal Mail which has struggled with the increase in demand during the pandemic, and has been outshone by some of its competitors.

However, she said that Royal Mail remained one of the largest couriers in the UK, and the introduction of two parcel hubs in the UK “shows its commitment to modernising”.

“Now the long-running dispute over pay and conditions with the union is over, it can focus on investing in its parcels division.”

“Although the move may be out of necessity rather than the business being fully prepared, consumer shopping habits have now shifted. Royal Mail needs to stamp its authority and deliver on its commitment or face being bottom of the pile.”

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