The irresistible rise of the UK’s lifestyle couriers

The irresistible rise of the UK’s ‘lifestyle couriers’

By Harry KretchmerOn the Money, 5 live

  • 27 January 2013



Non-professional couriers, using their own cars and spare time, are becoming a force to be reckoned with as the internet reshapes the UK’s logistics industry.

Almost a billion parcels are estimated to have been delivered in the UK in 2012 by an expanding logistics workforce of around 1.8 million people, supporting a domestic parcel industry worth around £4.4bn.

Self-employed drivers now make up anything between 5-8% of UK logistics workers, with one of the most rapid expansions in the group known in the industry as ‘lifestyle couriers’.

These are individuals who, out of choice or necessity, spend varying amounts of time each week delivering parcels, usually around their neighbourhoods. It has been happening for decades, but the scale has changed.

Now, if you order home deliveries from a wide range of well-known online, catalogue and high street retailers it is likely some of your goods will have spent some time in the boot of a lifestyle courier’s car.


Coping with growth


Online shopping has led to a boom in so-called “lifestyle” couriers

James Cartledge, editor of industry magazine Post & Parcel, explains why the face of parcel deliveries is changing.

“Business-to-business is still dominant in the market but e-commerce will push the business-to-consumer side to match it in the next few years.

“Now, most of the big parcel industry players also use lifestyle couriers to help them cope.”

The rise of Hermes, the largest player in the UK lifestyle courier market, mirrors the development of the market.

Ten years ago, the Leeds-based subsidiary of the multinational delivery group had 2,500 lifestyle couriers on its books. Today it is 7,500 and expanding fast.

From Greenock to Greenwich, Hermes expects to have delivered a record 160 million parcels in the 12 months to February, boosted by a spike of 18 million during December.

Lifestyle what?

A dozen, randomly-selected online shoppers in Manchester seemed to know little about who was delivering their online and catalogue orders, with some assuming online giants like Amazon had their own drivers.


“I suppose whatever saves them money and gets it here quicker”, was one typical response.

Ged, from Stockport, is one of the new-style couriers. He signed up with Hermes after taking voluntary redundancy following 26 years in local government.

“I wanted a change to become my own boss and that’s how come I’m tippin’ up as a parceller”, he explains.

Now he delivers 60 to 70 parcels every Saturday from the boot of his small saloon car.

A typical load might include a dozen home shopping catalogues, several boxes of shoes and a vacuum cleaner.

Them and us

The rise of lifestyle couriers has not been embraced by some full-time self-employed delivery drivers, who typically charge more to cover higher overheads, including specialist vehicles and insurance.

There are still 20% of people who’ve never purchased anything onlineGary Winter, Hermes

Peter Turner, spokesman for the Self Employed Owner Drivers Association UK, describes lifestyle couriers as “a pain in the neck!”

“If they didn’t exist there would be more work for the self-employed guy – it’s got to have a knock-on effect somewhere along the line.”

The fledgling profession is also criticised by some of those who claim to practise it.

Low wages are a frequent source of complaint on the internet forums that have sprung up dedicated to lifestyle couriers.

However, as a representative of the industry, Hermes argues that remuneration is fair and competitive, with additional payments depending on the job as well as opportunities for drivers to negotiate their pay.

Ged, from Stockport, is phlegmatic: “Every little helps, as they say.”

Level playing field?

As the ‘Designated Universal Service Provider’ (DUSP), the Royal Mail is subject to strict conditions, including the requirement to deliver to every UK address six days week, at affordable and uniform prices.

cost advantages over professionals.

By contrast, postal regulator Ofcom admits lifestyle firms play by different rules.

“Packet and parcel operators are, and always have been, very lightly regulated, although they must have a process in place to handle complaints”, says a spokesman.

Ian Senior, an economist specialising in the postal industry, thinks the relative freedoms of the lifestyle market should be preserved, for now at least.

“Frankly, I think they have quite an uphill battle to prove their credibility but I don’t want to see the big heavy hand of regulation coming in yet again”, Mr Senior says.

With e-commerce projected to grow at 15% per year, James Cartledge thinks lifestyle couriers are here to stay: “You can buy five pairs of trousers, try them on at home and send four of them back. Lifestyle couriers are part of that explosion.”

The director of sales and marketing at Hermes, Gary Winter, is upbeat about future growth. “Whether it’s infinite, I don’t know. But there are still 20% of people who’ve never purchased anything on the internet.”



Courier Work

In response to the queries I’ve had re courier work, please see the following, a bit dated, but informative. It only deals with the sameday market.

Courier and Parcel Services UK Market Synopsis SYN010

May 2013 Introduction

This market synopsis examines the trends and market developments affecting the courier and parcel services sector in the UK. It provides information targeted specifically at new, existing or aspiring small business owners who are aiming to trade or develop their interests within this sector.

Courier service Courier service providers primarily cater for the same-day delivery market. This typically involves B2B collection and delivery, often in an urban environment. Courier services often use a combination of vans, motorcycles and bicycles. The UK’s biggest courier firm is CitySprint (, which reported turnover of £74.3 million in 2011, up 21.7% on the previous year. However, it was noted in the company’s annual report that the future was uncertain, as the market is very competitive and some contracts are subject to competitive tender ( The courier sector is characterised by a high number of self-employed individuals, working either independently or as subcontractors for larger firms. These individuals are generally owner-drivers of cars, vans or bikes. For example, CitySprint subcontracts collections and deliveries to more than 2,500 self-employed couriers across the UK. Couriers collect packages from CitySprint’s 37 distribution centres and distribute them in their local areas, with deliveries tracked via GPS devices.

fred-flintstone-carCourier Exchange ( is an example of an online marketplace where independent couriers can find subcontract work. Examples of independent courier services include eCourier (, cyclone ( and City of London Courier ( Hundreds of independent couriers advertise locally and online. Websites such as Find My Courier ( allow customers to book collections and deliveries with registered couriers. The National Courier Association (NCA, is a network of independent courier companies that collaborate to provide a national service. Many courier services provide niche and specialist services that differentiate them from their competitors. For example, bicycle couriers can access areas of a congested city that nonbicycle couriers cannot. Couriers that use bicycles and electric cars also promote green and carbon-neutral services. Medical couriers specialise in deliveries of pharmaceutical products, clinical supplies and medical notes. Refrigerated couriers can carry foodstuffs and other temperature-sensitive goods. Examples of niche and specialist couriers include Green Mile (, Medical Moves ( and Fresh Move (



On some occasions, when making a successful sameday delivery, a young courier chap becomes some one’s hero, for a short lived space of time that is. This is just one such instance.

I picked up a sameday delivery job the other day from a well known parcel delivery company.

Unfortunately for their customer, this item had managed to bounce back and forth between a number of different depots, and had not been delivered, in fact it was now some days past it’s stated delivery date.

The customer, let’s call her Tracy, had made several increasingly urgent calls in order to locate her parcel and find out when it was going to be delivered.

That’s where I came in. I was given the parcel and tasked with a sameday delivery.

I called Tracy to let her know that I had her item on board, and would unite her with her parcel in approximately 3 hours, and would call her when I was half an hour away from delivery. Tracy was delighted and said that I could call her any time, not many women say that to me.

I called Tracy when I was half an hour from delivering. She proceeded to give me a long and complex list of directions, which only succeeded in confusing the hell out of me, so I told her that the sat nav would get me to her, but if I encountered any problems, I would call her. Tracy had now moved on some distance from being delighted and could barely contain herself.

I arrived outside Tracy’s door with her parcel on my shoulder, and rang the door bell. She opened the upstairs window, took one look at me, and declared in a sincere and booming voice “I love you.” She then ran all the way down-stairs to open the door to me, at which point I told her that I loved her too. Stars were glittering in her eyes and her smile reached the top of the world and back again. She reached out with both arms, and… snatched the parcel from off my shoulder.

Her cup ranneth over. She hugged her parcel close to her breast, and cast her love struck eyes upon me.   Not being one to miss an opportunity, I suggested that now that the formalities were out of the way that we should get married. At that point our relationship started to sour a little, and her dog appeared at the front door and immediately disapproved of me.

Notwithstanding that, I was invited in for a cup of tea. By the time I had finished the much welcome cuppa, doggy had decided that I wasn’t too bad after all and should now be welcomed into the bosom of the family. Unfortunately, Tracy’s ardour had by now considerably cooled, and I was politely wished a pleasant and safe return journey, and escorted to the door.

Hence ends my love on the road. But in spite of it all, I walk away with a smile, as customer and parcel are united in eternal bliss, and Edgbaston Express completes yet another successful mission.