2024 CEP Preview: Cautious approach will favour low-risk investment

Depending on who you trust, the global Courier, Express & Parcel (CEP) services market will be worth between $342 billion and 464 billion in 2024 – on the back of a CAGR of between 4.3 and 5.4 percent, which is expected to continue for the rest of the decade.

The main thing is that both reports concur the market will increase in value significantly next year following two years of stagnation after the heavy growth seen during the Pandemic, as e-commerce became the only way many people could shop.

Inflation has fallen quicker than anticipated in 2023, and fuel prices have stabilised, although they remain high, along with interest rates and the cost of living.

Nevertheless, retail spending is expected to increase in 2024, and more people will abandon physical stores for online options, raising parcel volumes in the process.

Doubts lingering about expected upturn

The rise in parcel volumes will give more CEP operators the confidence to invest in innovation – in sustainable measures because their customers demand it, and out of necessity because they’ll need increased digitalisation and data leverage to ride out periods of peak demand – and also in partnerships, which is increasingly becoming a preferred way to innovate with limited risk.

But it might be a slow start to the year: the operators will need convincing that the parcel volume stagnation is over before they commit.

For example, there are conflicting reports about how well Black Week in November 2023 went for the CEP industry.

This report suggests it went well in Estonia, while this report claims online sales were flat in the UK. The trend continued with a boom in Finland and a dip in Switzerland.

The varying reports will trouble the CEP industry because this is not what they want to hear.

Christmas 2023 will offer another barometer in the meantime.

Could next year alleviate labour concerns?

Another key element holding back the industry is labour. Not only is the industry short of trained personnel, but the Last Mile is being crippled in some countries by industrial action.

During the build-up to Christmas 2023, there were strikes by delivery staff in Cyprus, the US, India and the Nordics, although there were improved expectations in the UK, where the 2022 festive period was disrupted by 18 days of strikes by Royal Mail staff.

The action was only finally resolved in June with a settlement – another huge cost for parent company International Distributions Services, which blamed the industrial action for a $400 million interim loss.

Hampered by traditional labour models, established operators like Royal Mail are struggling to compete with the agility offered by startups that employ their staff as freelancers (often referred to as platform or gig workers), points out Elmar Toime, Postal and Logistics Strategic Advisory and Non-Executive Director at Qatar Post:

“Different labour models are emerging that allow flexible hours, payment according to delivery productivity, and reduced capital expenditure from the overseeing delivery organisation.”

Heading into 2024, there are three credible developments that could close the ever-widening gap between the established operators and the startups in the Last Mile:

  • Dynamic Parcel Networks – the inevitability that data analytics will help operators with regional or global networks to better predict peaks of demand and downtime more effectively
  • The news breaking on 13 December 2023 that the European Council and the European Parliament have reached a provisional agreement to give full employment rights to platform/gig workers. It promises to change the current landscape exploited by many local delivery specialists. Once endorsed and adopted, member states will have two years to incorporate the new legislation into their national laws
  • The increase in the popularity of lockers – based on a better understanding of customers’ Slipper Distances, CEP operators can reduce their ‘Cost of Drop’ by making a single delivery to a locker centre or other pick up drop off (PUDO) point, instead of multiple deliveries to home addresses

Shaping up to be ‘Year of the Locker’

Smart lockers are increasingly becoming a popular choice. Like strike action, barely a day goes by without yet another investment – and there was no sign of this stopping heading into 2024.

During the build-up to Christmas, there were reports of new deals featuring smart locker terminology in Germany, Slovakia and the UKtwice.

Christian Østergaard, Lead visionary – Senior Group Strategist of IT Production/IoT/AI at PostNord, is excited about the possibility of fewer deliveries because it can dramatically reduce costs:

“Moving away from a delivery service that drops one parcel per stop to one that drops multiple parcels – at a PUDO or lockers, for example. Near-home deliveries like these will not only drive down the cost per drop, but offer a far more sustainable way of working, along with certainty the parcel can be delivered at the first time of asking.”

The environmentally-friendly nature of lockers is a perfect fit for the Last Mile, where the main driver will continue to be sustainability in 2024.

Customers are becoming increasingly vocal about the carbon footprint left by the delivery of their goods, and the challenge facing the CEP operators is how to become more sustainable at a time when they are reluctant to invest heavily.

However, while lockers are becoming popular in Europe, doubts linger about their suitability in countries where cars have shaped urban planning.

Accordingly many CEP operators will continue to prioritise doorstep deliveries, using technologies such as SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), which utilise advanced algorithms to optimise routes.

Six startups to shape the future

Given the challenges involved in introducing lockers to a country where cars have shaped urban planning, the industry will be keenly monitoring the efforts of Bloq.it in 2024, as it has set its sights on conquering the US.

The company was one of 25 startups competing in the PIP Startup Innovation Award Competition on Day 1 of Parcel+Post Expo 2023 in Amsterdam from October 24-26.

Open to startups in the CEP industry, the finalists pitched their technologies and solutions to a panel of jurors carefully selected from within the industry – offering attendees an exciting glimpse at what the future might entail.

So where better for a taste of what to expect than a quick look at six of the startups generating excitement in the industry?

Bloq.it – the winner of the ‘First, Middle & Last Mile’ category, this smart locker network builder already has a presence in the Americas, Africa and Asia, as well as Europe. Founded as a locker option for beach-goers in 2019, it has quickly expanded to offer end-to-end solutions, and it has collaborations with the likes of DHL and Vinted Go. With the US in its sights – described by its CEO as an “unsolved puzzle that’s going to boom” – 2024 could be its biggest year yet.

Tighd – a standout entrant in the ‘First, Middle & Last Mile’ category, which was mostly dominated by smart locker providers and real-time analytics platforms, this ‘in-cage lock box’ delivery solution offers homeowners a secure way to receive parcels while they are out. Neatly fitted onto the front door, the cage unit’s capacity folds out when in use to incorporate large-sized parcels if need be.

Bamomas – the winner in the ‘Processes, Digital & Data’ category, and overall winner of the PIP Startup Innovation Award Competition, this Cloud-based battery monitoring and analytics company offers solutions that detect anomalies and disruptive events that can negatively impact the expected battery lifespan or cause an operational downtime. Many of our worst-case travel or domestic scenarios involve dead or faulty batteries – so clearly a godsend all round!

Seenons – the winner in the eCommerce, Retail & Cross-Border category, this platform helps businesses to improve the efficiency of their waste management. The platform matches partners with one another according to their wishes for quality, sustainability and price. Seenons maintains that it’s only by working together can we achieve zero waste goals and accelerate the transition towards a circular economy.

Hipli – this French entrant in the eCommerce, Retail & Cross-Border category proves that sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones. Despite our best efforts to reuse packaging, we end up using just 4 percent of the plastic, and slightly more of the cardboard, which enclose our parcels, producing 1.5 billion tonnes of global waste every year. Hipli’s durable packages save on waste as it can be reused multiple times.

Welco – another French entrant in the eCommerce, Retail & Cross-Border category, this company facilitates a network of homeowners who receive packages when their neighbours are out. Certainly, it’s a welcome idea to address the problem of parcel recipients not being at home at the time of deliveries.


Some analysts thought 2023 would be the year to bring an end to the parcel volume stagnation, and there’s a fair chance the first few months of 2024 will tread a similar path. Nevertheless, there’s enough optimism to suggest it will end up being the turnaround year the CEP industry needs to start intelligently investing in smart innovation to fulfil its huge potential.

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