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Royal Mail strikes will crush retail and small businesses when we need them to grow

The Royal Mail strikes will have a long-term impact on small businesses’ deliveries. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The UK boasts one of the world’s most sophisticated ecommerce economies, with small businesses thriving by scaling up their retail operations online.

But more than four decades on from the Winter of Discontent, industrial action risks destabilising this flourishing online economy.

We understand the challenges that workers are facing during these unprecedented times, with higher energy bills and interest rates leading to strapped household budgets.

But the simple truth is that the cost of living crisis will be made significantly worse for many by the postal strikes and their crushing effect on small businesses.

We were hopeful that recent Royal Mail and CWU talks would result in a calling off of today’s and tomorrow’s strikes, since Black Friday is one of the most crucial trading periods of the year. Since those talks have failed, we now have no choice but to come out fighting for small businesses up and down the country who will be devastated by this interruption of service.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the UK economy and this year will be a real litmus test for many. The last two festive trading periods were overshadowed by Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns, and this year firms have inflationary pressures and supply chain issues to contend with too.

It’s already an incredibly challenging environment to be operating in. Small businesses are caught in the crosshairs of the postal strikes at the very time they most need support.

It’s sadly no surprise that a vast majority of small business sellers on eBay say the strikes will negatively affect them. Half go even further and describe the walk-outs as ‘disastrous’ for their business.

Almost two thirds think they will fall short of their sales targets for this year, with others considering shutting up shop altogether. That’s a terrifying prospect for many small business owners who are already struggling to make ends meet.

One of the small business owners who relies on eBay and Royal Mail to meet customer demand is Hannah Daragon, of Plymouth-based Hannah’s Games. The strikes have been, in her own words, “catastrophic”, and she is hugely concerned about their ongoing effect.

She says: “Every single day they strike, we lose money. And as we sell time sensitive products – for birthdays and other seasonal events – if people can’t get them in time, they simply won’t order with us. The cumulative impact on the network of the multiple rolling strikes has been horrendous.”

For our part, at eBay we are doing everything in our power to try to mitigate the damage this will cause the hundreds of thousands of UK small businesses on our marketplace.

We are working with alternative delivery services to secure extra capacity and resource for our sellers to tap into to get their products into the hands of shoppers. We’re also putting in place extra protections for sellers to ensure inevitably delayed or lost deliveries will not hit their margins or reputation in the long term.

We also recognise our duty to help shoppers buying from eBay understand the impact of the strikes and manage their expectations – hopefully also alleviating pressure on sellers to tackle thorny customer service questions.

With so much of the UK economy dependent on Royal Mail and its army of postal workers, the effect of the strikes is likely to be far further reaching than some delayed Christmas cards. The true extent will, we are afraid, only be revealed with time.

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