Managing expectations

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Consumers may want home deliveries at times to suit themselves but cost considerations will always limit the options so are there other ways of keeping them happy?

A survey last month from software company Postcode Anywhere, suggests that almost two-thirds of online shoppers rate timed deliveries as either important or very important. Timed delivery slots are slightly more relevant for women than men while only 14 per cent of the shoppers surveyed described timed deliveries as “not important”.

For a generation of online shoppers, who regard the pre-booked hour-long delivery window for their weekly groceries as normal, the fact that the rest of their internet shopping arrives at unpredictable times speaks of incompetence and inefficiency. It is, of course, quite a different matter. Managing home deliveries for a van visiting up to 150 addresses, which are different each day, within an eight to ten hour schedule is difficult enough without the added complication of delivering to each of those addresses within a pre-agreed time window. Even providing accurate tracking information is daunting.

Client portal
As Greg Smith, CIO at Yodel, points out the 200 million parcels or so the company delivers each year will each have an associated ten to 15 business events as the item travels through the network. That makes two to three billion events pa to be tracked and managed. Like other carriers, Yodel is responding to consumer demands for more information by developing a client portal allowing retailers to see the progress of their consignments in real-time and some of this information will eventually probably by late next year be available to those demanding online shoppers. Allowing those shoppers to book a delivery slot when they place their orders is, however, in most cases, a step rather too far. Yodel’s sister company, Yodel XL, does work with retailers selling big-ticket items to enable just this sort of pre-booked service: “For big ticket items like beds or wardrobes, shoppers have to wait in,” says Smith, “and it’s a two-man delivery so you can’t afford repeated attempts to deliver.”

Given the mismatch between what shoppers appear to want and what is realistically achievable at the delivery prices they are willing to pay, how can the industry manage expectation to avoid those constant grumbles about inefficient carriers? Schemes like Royal Mail’s SafePlace or the various secure parcel boxes, such as Hippo-Box, can solve some re-delivery issue but not all, especially if online merchants insist on an actual signature on receipt, presumably to combat fraud.

Proactively keeping shoppers informed of their parcel’s movements, rather than leaving them to click through to tracking information (which will usually say nothing more specific than “out for delivery”) appears to be one solution. Kiddiecare, for example, works with Interlink to send its customers an SMS text message on the day of delivery giving an estimated one-hour time slot that can be calculated once the delivery van is loaded with that day’s consignments. If that time is unacceptable to the consumer then they can reschedule to another day, thus avoiding a wasted attempt to deliver. According to Kiddiecare’s technology officer, Simon Harrow, there is currently a 98.2 per cent success rate for hitting the predicted delivery window. “We’re now looking at sending customers alerts about when their goods are packed ready for dispatch and also allowing them to specify a delivery day at that point,” he says.

Kiddiecare maintains that such a system has been easy to implement and certainly contributes to the fact that its 40,000 online orders each month trigger no more than one or two complaints.

Keeping customers informed and enabled was also the approach of Dell Computers back in the mid-90s when it started selling on the web. Here too, customers were contacted by telephone when their PC was ready to dispatch and asked to agree a delivery day when they could be available to accept and sign for the goods.

Big-ticket sector
Today, with universal email and text messaging, contacting shoppers for their preferences is even easier, so it is surprising how few online retailers offer their customers such choices. Certainly in the big-ticket sector it is not that unusual to be contacted prior to dispatch to agree a delivery day, but for those middling-sized parcels that are just too big for the letter box or even small ones that need to be signed for, a simple email and the opportunity to specify a delivery day would be a big step forward.

And, yes, certainly either weekend deliveries would have to be at a premium rate, the options restricted to weekdays, or retailers would need to be rather more flexible about dispatching to addresses other than the card-holder’s to enable more workplace deliveries.

Giving customers the choice of consolidated deliveries (as Amazon has done for years) rather than items arriving at assorted times over several days, is also manageable with today’s technology and would similarly cut down on the grumbles and complaints.

With online shopping continuing to grow, home deliveries can only increase and finding better ways to keep consumers informed, happy and on-side has to be on the agenda.

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