Time to manage expectations?

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As we tick off the last days before Christmas, shall we see the familiar annual panic to clear the parcel backlog before the great day, will the twitter-sphere buzz with complaints yet again – or will consumers have shopped early?

Retailers have only themselves to blame. Back in the early days of online shopping, delivery was typically promised “within 28 days” and we were delighted and surprised if the goodies arrived any earlier (or, when e-shopping first began, if they arrived at all).

Today many e-tailers will promise “standard” delivery within three to five days while a growing number will promise that the items will arrive “next day” for a small extra charge or – in some cases – no charge at all.

Next’s delivery trucks are emblazoned with the fact that you can “order before midnight” to receive your items the following day, while many more retailers boast similar slogans on websites, street posters or the sides of buses.

Penelope Ody is a retail market specialist.

We are regularly told by the experts that customers have come to expect that their orders will be delivered – or be available to collect from a location of their choice – within hours.

In the case of Next’s midnight orders, they are promised to be delivered to your home within little more than a dozen hours.

Distress But do we want all our shopping to arrive quite so quickly? Research by NetDespatch covering 1,019 regular online shoppers suggested that 58 per cent of them expected any “distress purchases” to be delivered either the same or next day, with 65 per cent prepared to pay – some of them up to £8 – for such immediate access to the items they needed so urgently.

Lower down the need scale – in the “really want” and “nice to have” shopping categories – customers could be rather more patient: 81 per cent were prepared to wait more than two days, and some for up to eight, for a “really want” purchase, and 60 per cent would not be disappointed if a “nice to have” order took more than four days to arrive.

Certainly as a “regular online shopper” myself, I am always rather surprised when items with a “standard” delivery charge arrive the day after ordering.

This article first appeared in Logistics & Supply Chain, December 2016.

I’m usually left suspecting that the retailer concerned can’t be particularly busy if my order, placed in the morning is declared as “despatched” by mid-afternoon, and is delivered to my door early on the following day – but perhaps they’re all just extremely efficient and use super-fast carriers.

The norm In contrast to the NetDespatch research, a study from Electio – also surveying 1,000 consumers – argued that “Amazon has made next day delivery the norm”.

Since many shops now open on Sundays, runs the argument, then so too must the online world with both customer service departments and deliveries available seven days a week.

The report suggests that Saturday is a marginally more popular day for online shopping than the rest of the week and thus Sunday delivery is essential.

Significantly almost two-thirds of those questioned (65.6 per cent) expected Sunday delivery to be available, with 58 per cent of them wanting it to be offered at no more than the usual next-day delivery charge.

The over-riding reason (61 per cent) quoted for Sunday delivery was that the shopper would be more likely to be at home – although around 15 per cent simply declared themselves to be impatient and “just want it now”.

So, as we approach the Christmas peak, will shoppers fall into the “really want” category and expect their orders to arrive within eight days, or will the “just want it now” types leave it to midnight on the 23 December genuinely convinced that next day delivery is possible? Last year many retailers announced their “last orders for Christmas” dates on their websites in good time to prevent disappointment.

This year John Lewis is promising next day delivery for all orders up to 8pm on 22 December – but will that be close enough for those “want it now” types who may expect deliveries on Christmas Eve? Certainly social media last year was spattered with complaints from shoppers who had gone to place orders only to find that the “last orders” date had passed.

Many complained – horror of horrors – that they actually had to visit a shop instead.

No doubt we’ll see a repeat of such disgruntled tweets this year.

If retailers continue to offer free delivery or to turn around orders in less than half a day as standard, then that is what consumers will expect – and they will complain bitterly when reality falls short.

Meanwhile, the pressure such promised service levels puts on supply chain systems and logistics providers mounts, while the increasing total cost to serve turns yet more orders into loss-making transactions.

Retailers really do have only themselves to blame.

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