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Amazon retail review: from the archive


In recent weeks, we’ve covered Argos and Asda several times. Whether in relation to the former’s same-day Fast Track home delivery service, which was free of charge earlier this month, or the latter’s launch of ToYou, a parcel delivery network that takes advantage of spare capacity in the supermarket giant’s network.
There is, as someone pointed out to me only last week, another big A dominating the retail landscape: Amazon.

Perhaps it’s not so surprising then that while I was reading through some of the eDelivery Magazine archive from earlier this year one feature in particular jumped out at me – a review by three readers of Amazon’s delivery, collections, and returns capabilities, along with a summary of its performance from Martin Shaw, head of research at eDelivery’s sister title InternetRetailing.

A lot changes over the course of a year, we all know that. And there’s a very strong likelihood that we’ll be conducting a similar set of reviews of some of the key retailers as defined by the InternetRetailing Top500 report; expect a few new perspectives.

But in the meantime, the review from the archive still makes interesting reading:

Each issue, eDelivery asks three reviewers to take a look at a leading retailer and benchmark their performance from the consumers’ perspective in terms of delivery, collect and returns, and analyse what this means for their back-end operations and retail strategy. This issue: Amazon UK.

Stuart Higgins and Will Dawson, 
LCP Consulting

Amazon UK is the nation’s biggest online retailer. Its USP is Amazon Prime, providing free, next-day delivery for an annual fee, which represents excellent value for regular users. This service is an illustration of the complexity of Amazon’s customer offer, which makes comparison with other retailers more challenging.

Recently, Amazon has increased the number of carriers it uses to spread volume and risk across the carrier market; it has also added its own carrier network. The benefit of this strategy was clearly demonstrated pre-Christmas when Amazon deliveries were relatively unaffected by carrier disruption. However, the number of carrier options means that currently there is an inconsistent national service offering, with some services being dependant on the consumer’s geographic location.

Amazon scores well for its low free delivery threshold and the next day / nominated day options (including Saturdays and Sundays) – with scheduled delivery time windows improving convenience for the consumer.

For its size, Amazon has some significant gaps compared to the market. It has a relatively early cut off time for next day delivery and their pricing for next day and nominated day deliveries is behind the best rates in the market. Additionally, some of these services, for example same day, are only available on a regional basis. One consequence of regionality in carrier usage is that the consumer is not provided with service and pricing information until a delivery address is entered, resulting in an inconsistent customer proposition and experience. Interestingly, as Amazon expands its range and offers, the next day cut-off is becoming earlier – perhaps indicating that their back-end infrastructure cannot yet match the pace of their marketing and sales proposition.

Amazon UK was the original home delivery market leader and continues to get the basics right, but is not yet attaining the depth and robustness of the more innovative options that other retailers are delivering. This may leave Amazon exposed as consumers are increasingly seeking choice, convenience and certainty for home delivery. However, options such as Prime are game changers – other retailers do not have the scale to emulate this offer. Amazon Logistics could be the next game changer as Amazon delivery volumes make this a viable national proposition.

Ray Fowler, Associate Director, 
Javelin Group

Back in the early halcyon days of ecommerce we were all talking about potential collections from “lockers” in garage forecourts, stations and motorway services; never really believing it would happen properly. Well folks it’s here and in a big way and not only from lockers but a plethora of other convenient locations.

Taking Amazon’s offer, it has moved a long way since a CD posted through your letter box: dedicated branded lockers, Collect+ stores, Pass My Parcel, Doddle and of course not forgetting the local Royal Mail collection offices. This puts about 25,000 convenient collection points into the network.
Many retail and FBA items can be delivered to a pickup location as long as they’re light enough and small enough.

During checkout you’ll be able to proceed with your order if all items are eligible for delivery to the pickup location; otherwise, you’ll be asked to change the delivery address or remove specific items.
For delivery to a pickup location:

  • Only items dispatched by are eligible for delivery to a pickup location. This includes Marketplace items that are Fulfilled by Amazon.
Pickup locations are available in a variety of sizes. If the combined size, weight or dimensions of your parcel exceeds the size restrictions of your selected pickup location, you’ll need to remove items or select a different delivery address.
Items of very high value or those that require special handling need to be delivered to a home or business address.
    Subscribe & Save orders need to be delivered to a home or business address.
All items in your order must be available for dispatch within 24 hours. Although an item may be listed as “In Stock”, we may not be able to dispatch that item right away. For items that can dispatch within 24 hours, the product detail page will show a message similar to “Want this item by tomorrow? Order in the next 30 minutes”.

If you’ve checked each of these points and you still can’t select delivery to a pickup location, then it’s most likely that all available locations are full. You should select a different delivery address or try to complete your order again on a different day.

Joe Tarragano, Director, Transform

Amazon is lauded as the benchmark in retail operations and for its overall proposition, and it doesn’t disappoint in its reverse logistics. However, a big distinction needs to be made between its own inventory and that of its marketplace providers, and the substantial difference in experience may not, at first glance, be obvious during the buying process.

I ordered two pairs of jeans, using Amazon Prime and a marketplace seller (£3 P&P). The first observation when I placed the order with the marketplace seller was that the returns policy was invisible. Apart from a tiny italic footnote on the very final confirmation page, leading to a generic page suggesting I had 30 days (no mention of at what cost, or how), there was no clue. This is in stark contrast to how Amazon presents its own stock. Returns is a key consideration for clothing buyers, and when buying Amazon’s own stock a clear “free returns” statement is included next to the price on the product detail page (PDP) with another clear and simple link to further details if needed; a great example of best practice. Beyond the PDP though, in neither case is there further reference to returns (other than the italic footnote).

The Amazon own-stock item 
arrived with a simple enclosure. No returns label but in small text a URL for me to go to their returns centre 
( These pages are a masterclass; simple, visual, friendly, reassuring guidance and a process that end-to-end is only a few basic clicks. Being Amazon, customers are offered an extensive array of returns options including post and Collect+, but also lockers and a collection option. When selecting the post option, nice touches include emailing me the label automatically, letting me send it to a friend (in case I don’t have a printer) and making it easily re-printable at any point from within the My Account area. Throughout the flow, the user is kept informed of when the refund should be applied (2 days after receipt) and how long they have to send it back (30 days). As in its core site, Amazon delivers well on a user experience that’s fit for purpose.

For the marketplace seller however the item arrived with an enclosure directing me to return the item to “the above address”, and asking me to indicate whether I wanted a refund, exchange or credit note. And in addition to paying to return the item (postage is the only option), there was a statement indicating my original postage charges wouldn’t be refunded, which I’d not appreciated prior to purchase. All in all it was manual and expensive, and in sharp contrast to Amazon’s own stock process.

The challenge for Amazon will be how it manages to balance the leading proposition, operational excellence and great CRM capabilities for its own stock alongside an increasing array of marketplace participants, who provide a less attractive, less efficient and less information-rich offering. While Fulfilled by Amazon does a good job on the outbound for its marketplace providers, Amazon needs to develop the returns support for its partners, recognising that customers think end-to-end and don’t just evaluate a brand based on the purchase process.

IRUK 500
Martin Shaw, Senior Researcher, InternetRetailing

Amazon’s amazing delivery, returns and collect capability more than compensates for its lack of a high street presence, found the IRUK 500 report. Customers can conveniently return and collect items due to the network of proprietary lockers and third party Collect+ locations – meaning that Amazon came in the ‘Elite’ cluster of top performing UK retailers. Seven delivery options mean the company remains relevant to the broadest cross-section of shoppers; and the speed and competitive pricing means it’s the first choice for many, who elect to start their shopping journey through the Amazon site search, rather than Google.

The Operations and Logistics Dimension of the IRUK 500 report assessed more than 100 of the largest UK multichannel and ecommerce retailers across dozens of performance metrics across the areas of Delivery, Returns and Collect. The study, which looked at retailers from the customer’s perspective, found that multichannel retailers have an inherent advantage over their pureplay competitors as their physical presence allows them to offer the pick up and drop off services which customers prefer. Amazon is an example for other pureplay etailers because of its innovative embrace of lockers, simple returns and a range of delivery options exceed the convenience of most multichannel competitors.

This feature appeared in the first print edition of eDelivery Magazine (EDM01) in January 2015.

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