“The demand is just massive at the moment,” said Gary Starr, Australia Post’s executive general manager for business, government and international.
“A CEO from a major retailer recently said to me that we’re going to see what it’s like having a purely online shopping environment in Melbourne.”
Online shopping has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Australia Post experiencing a 157 per cent growth in Victoria in the first week of August compared to last year.
This came after a very busy July, when more than a third of all online shopping purchases around the country were made in Victoria.
Home and garden, food and liquor, and health and beauty are the leading categories for purchases by shoppers looking for things to buy while in lockdown.
Mr Starr said that the surge in demand was being felt in Australia Post’s metropolitan Melbourne distribution centres, where staff numbers have been cut by 10 per cent as part of the state government’s measures to combat the virus.
To manage the influx of parcels with fewer people, Australia Post is running split shifts around the clock while conducting regular deep cleans.
In recent weeks the volume of mail has become so high that parcels have been sent to the Sydney processing facility on trucks and planes for sorting.
Mr Starr said the Sydney centre had processed two million packages last weekend, up 30 per cent on the usual numbers.
“A big chunk of that would be Victorian,” he said.
“We’ll send them up overnight, process them and get them back … so customers may see a parcel take a different route to normal.”
Mr Starr said it would be ideal to process packages locally, rather than send them interstate, because it was the cheapest and most timely “but we are in unusual times”.
The measure is just one of many taken by the postal service to try and keep up with the boom in online shopping during the pandemic. Other steps include seven-day delivery, pop-up sorting facilities and hiring 600 new staff.
“To be honest we’re battle hardened, we’ve learned how to work in this environment more effectively,” said Mr Starr.
“We’re doing relatively well, we clearly want to be in a position where every parcel arrives on time.”
Tom Cowie is a journalist at The Age covering general news.