Deliveries of delight

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Online shopping is growing – but when will home delivery services bring customer satisfaction?
According to a pre-Christmas survey by online trade body IMRG, around 93 per cent of those questioned were expecting to do some Christmas shopping online this year, with 71 per cent likely to do at least half their entire Christmas shopping on the internet. Reports from payment processor Retail Decisions suggested that on so-called “cyber Monday” – 7th December, the peak online shopping day – sales hit £1.4 million a minute at one point with a 61 per cent increase on the same day in 2008 and £33 million of transactions processed between 1pm and 2pm. Post Christmas there was another surge as e-tailers began their sale offers on Christmas Eve with the IMRG suggesting that £100 million would be spent online on Boxing Day.
It all goes to demonstrate growing confidence and familiarity with online shopping, and is a trend set to continue as the “digital generation” grows into adulthood. There is, however, one downside to all this online activity and that is the need for physical goods to actually be delivered to the customer. Music and video might be streamed to our desktops but buying anything else requires a courier or some form of in-store collection.
Delivery services are not always reliable: most online grocers managed to fulfil orders before Christmas but local TV and radio stations revelled in the handful of disappointed customers left without their turkeys.
Even when the roads are perfectly passable, courier services regularly fall short of expectation. One delivery driver persists in dumping my parcel on the doorstep and disappearing without either (a) ringing the doorbell at all or (b) waiting to see if that doorbell will be answered. Salvaging damp boxes of books from Amazon several hours and much torrential rain later is not a pleasant experience. Then there was the company which put a “you were out” card through the door dated two days previously. Had the card languished unnoticed in my cluttered porch for two days or was it a mistake? The card said they’d try to deliver on the following day (ie the day before I found the card) but no-one had called then. The company’s helpline number was simply a recorded message asking me to choose to (a) upgrade my delivery at a cost of £10, (b) collect it from a depot ten miles away or (c) arrange delivery on another day when the goods would be left at a place I designated at my own risk – no means of finding if the date on the card was right or wrong. Having opted for (c) and waited in all morning alert for a delivery van, the parcel finally appeared and the driver conceded that the date on the card was probably wrong adding “we get so many complaints from customers about our call centre – it’s embarrassing”.
Collecting from a store is, for many, the ideal option but, although becoming more commonplace, not all retailers yet have supply chain systems or in-store processes that can cope with such services. So how will logistics companies cope as home shopping increases? From this customer’s point of view it would be rather nice if they adopted the tactics of my local postman and the regular Parcelforce delivery driver. If there is no answer at the door both – unbidden – simply tuck our parcels either into the greenhouse (easily visible from the road) or at the back of the open-fronted garage and leave a note to that effect at our door. Some online retailers helpfully ask you to give special delivery instructions (viz. leave in greenhouse if out) which simplifies the delivery process.
Equally, I remember a presentation from Dell’s then carrier at a home shopping conference many years ago where the speaker explained how a phone call to customers to check when they’d be in to sign for the goods proved a highly cost-effective strategy cutting the need for repeated delivery attempts. Again, not all retail web sites ask for a contact telephone number which can be put on the dispatch label for use by couriers. Ocado – and probably several others – helpfully send a text message the day before the delivery is due and then a second text a few hours before – even telling the shopper the name of the delivery driver and the colour of the van: it’s simple, unobtrusive and presumably also helps to reduce failed deliveries. Such strategies are far more acceptable to the customer than automated telephone responses, requests for additional money to “upgrade” the delivery or even – as I found recently – a curt note telling me that if I failed to rearrange the delivery within 48 hours the goods would be returned to the supplier. With customers demanding greater choice how long will it be before we are offered a selection of carriers to choose from when we buy online? It would be a sure way to avoid the known doorstep dumpers: and with growing emphasis on customer reviews, negative comments about a carrier may become increasingly visible and relevant in future.

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