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Retailers have demanded improved service levels and compensation for delays ahead of a predicted surge in late news deliveries this March.
Month of delays
An analysis by RN of delivery times into depots since 2015 revealed a 56% average increase in late deliveries – by the News Media Association’s (NMA) definition – by publishers into wholesalers in March. The month was the worst of the year for publisher delays in three of the past four years.
A forecast using this data predicts 605 instances of late deliveries into depots across the UK in March 2019, an average of 8.5 days of delays per depot. These frequently lead to subsequent delays for papers reaching retailers.
A separate survey of 100 news sellers by RN found that the average delay cuts daily sales by £54.73, or £58.54 for HND agents. If publishers and wholesalers allow the March trend to trickle down to store delays, stores will lose £437.84 each.
Claiming back costs
Despite the losses and delays, complaint logs from NFRN Connect show that in 79% of very late deliveries, news wholesalers failed to give a reason for the delay.
This is compounded by evidence seen by RN that reveals the significant barriers retailers face in claiming restitution. In one instance, Valerie Chung, who runs Broomes Newsagents in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, was forced to incur costs redelivering The Sun and The Times after her News UK driver failed to turn up. The shop owner was denied the £19.25 restitution because it was “an isolated issue”.
The NMA is a trade group for newspaper publishers. Its Fast Track Resolution system requires that, regardless of the cost to the retailer in each instance, publishers will only pay out if an individual title is late three times in three weeks, or three times out of three for Saturday and Sunday editions.
While permitting reasonable costs incurred by newsagents to be claimed, it caps individual claims at £60, or nationwide claims for a single incident to £3,000. At a wholesaler level, both Menzies Distribution and Smiths News refuse to refund carriage charges, even in instances where they fail to deliver at all.
Unlike in telecoms or transport, where restitution is automatically applied when a delay occurs, retailers face a multistep process to apply for restitution, of which only 30% of applicants who reach the second stage continue to the third.
Responding to RN’s findings, NFRN national vice president Stuart Reddish said: “‘In no industry but the news supply chain would instances of late or no deliveries, or order shortages, be accepted without consequence. Instead, retailers have to fight tooth and nail to gain any form of compensation.
“Ahead of what is likely to be a month of delays, the NFRN is calling for publishers and suppliers to sort out a delays system comparable to the standard in other markets. This means automatic restitution of carriage charges and orders, and simple compensation for additional costs incurred by news sellers such as redeliveries or collection from depot.
“Until every delay incurs a cost, there is insufficient incentive for the supply chain to improve.”
The Press Distribution Forum (PDF) claims to provide an “independent, transparent and properly accountable” process for retailer complaints. However, when approached for comment, it issued a statement released in agreement with the NMA. It read: “As a supply chain, we consistently review delivery time performance and make changes to our operations if necessary.
“The PDF continues to work to improve understanding and access to the complaint mechanisms at all levels of the supply chain. We are also happy to engage with the NFRN to improve reporting on late deliveries and capture the reasons for lateness.
“The PDF is currently testing an improved complaints procedure to provide retailers with even easier access and faster resolution.”