Meeting customer expectations

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The mince pies and Christmas cards may have been in the shops since September but with consumers now in serious shopping mode will retailers and carriers actually be able to deliver what they want?  Penelope Ody examines the issues.

PennyOdyThe fairy lights are up, the Christmas trees are appearing, and it’s the time of year for surveys and predictions about consumer spending and preferences this holiday season. One study – from NetDespatch – included delivery issues in its questions and came up with something of a dichotomy. It would seem that while 85 per cent of shoppers want goods to be delivered to their homes, three-quarters of those actually work full-time. As the researchers said: “It is therefore not entirely surprising that missing a delivery is a key irritant”.
“It would seem that consumers are not aware of alternative options,” says NetDespatch commercial director Matthew Robertson. “That’s especially true of systems like Collect-plus and the Royal Mail’s Local Collect service. It can also be difficult for retailers to offer these services.”
Providing a variety of collection options at the online checkout requires systems to present specific information for each individual shopper: details of the nearest Collect+ locations, for example, or the preferred Post Office for Local Collect. Applications, such as NetDespatch’s “Site Location Toolkit” can enable a pop-up window showing various collection options based on the customer’s delivery postal-code, while shoppers also have the capability to add an alternative postal-code if they want to collect from a suitable venue on the journey from work, for example.

Almost three-quarters of those surveyed would also be happy to have their orders left in a safe location or with a neighbour but, again, that is not always offered as an option on a retail website; even where the checkout includes a box for “special instructions” that information often fails to make it onto the carrier’s label. “Space can be a limiting factor,” adds Robertson, “which doesn’t help customer satisfaction when the goods are taken back to the depot.”
While most retailers will offer a “collect from store” option on their websites, detailed delivery information is rare. Choices may be “next-day” or “standard” but a selection of named carriers or allowing shoppers to specify morning, afternoon or a particular day is very unlikely. Often the first indication that the goods are on their way will be an e-mail – perhaps from the retailer but just as often direct from the carrier – with tracking information and a click=through to the carrier’s site.
This, believes Niklas Hedin, CEO of Centiro, a cloud-based delivery management solution, which has just launched in the UK, is another major failing. “The customer’s relationship is with the retailer not the carrier,” he says, “and more than 80 per cent of shoppers will hold the retailer responsible if something goes wrong with the delivery. Retailers need to integrate with the carrier’s information so that tracking data and updates come via the retail website and retailers can alert customers directly if there are any problems.”
In an ideal world, some shoppers – especially in the peak Christmas shopping season – would also like their orders suitably consolidated and delivered together. “It’s early days but it is certainly coming,” believes Matthew Robertson. Tesco’s marketplace approach, which currently involves more than 50 third-party partners, suggests that some leading brands are already thinking along these lines. There may be nothing very new about a direct ship option, but it should be possible for those goods to be sent via the marketplace-consolidator for delivery at an agreed time.
Perhaps others customers would like the flexibility to change the “final mile” option in real-time depending on circumstances and Niklas Hedin sees this as a major trend for the near future. “We already have a couple of carriers in the US offering this option and I’d expect that within two or three years we’ll see more of it in the UK as well,” he says.

We all know the frustration of having to wait at home for that vital parcel, which either never appears or finally arrives late in the day, so the ability to send an e-mail or text saying “Don’t deliver now as I really must go out, so drop it off at the post office” would be far more acceptable than finding one of those irritating cards on the doormat with their instruction to phone the depot to re-schedule. Companies like DPD already send an early-morning e-mail to shoppers giving a one-hour delivery window and offering various “in flight” options to change it if need be. Hedin argues that this sort of information should really come via the retailer giving a “full-circle brand experience” and needs to be available at any time up to that final mile.
However, with 88 per cent of NetDespatch’s survey respondents planning to shop on the Internet for their Christmas presents this year – and with more than a quarter of these making no provision for the late arrival of their orders – we can no doubt expect the usual spate of “disappointed shopper” horror stories to hit the media headlines on Boxing Day again this year.

First published in Supply Chain Standard, November 2014

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