Following its announcement that it would set limits on the amount of next-day delivery business it would accept from Black Friday, several eDelivery readers have shared their opinions with us. In this, the second tranche of responses, we hear a broadly sympathetic range of views. But some temper that sympathy with warnings that there is too much focus on the symptoms rather than on the problem itself, or even that Yodel might be leaving itself vulnerable to voracious competition.
Gordon Seery, operations manager at OSE Logistics, thinks it’s all well and good making the right moves, but you have to make yourself understood by customers: “I have worked in the logistics industry on and off for 10 years in a business providing expert express logistics solutions both B2B and B2C. We think that managing customer expectations is the key to any quality logistics and transport service. Open and honest dialogue with customers is crucial in both situations.
“Given the research provided, it seems apparent to us that many customers would be happy with a “non-urgent” delivery. This obviously needs to be communicated to them in a timely and appropriate manner. Given the nature of some customers accounts e.g. Amazon Prime, there will be some who will expect the higher level of service and there must be dialogue in place for online businesses to communicate expected levels of demand, via their own market research, to logistics providers to assist in their own planning.”
Stuart Higgins, retail partner at LCP Consulting, takes a broadly optimistic view, but warns of the danger of the fill-yer-boots mentality: “As Black Friday 2014 showed, retailers accumulated orders that were way beyond their capability to deliver through their existing infrastructure or via their carrier partners – yet they continued to take orders knowing that they could not fulfil on that promise within the quoted lead times.
“The best omni-channel retailers have the inherent agility in their back end systems and infrastructure to be able to manage through these peaks, but most importantly, they also have the agility in their front end customer offer to ensure they can dynamically alter their offer to ensure they can always fulfil on their promise – they never knowingly over-promise and under-deliver.
“In placing a cap on the volume of next-day deliveries they will accept, Yodel are simply aiming to plan what they will deliver and ensuring they will deliver what they plan. Carrier capacity is not a bottomless pit. There are physical constraints to any carrier operation and Yodel have to balance the provision of additional capacity for peak with the cost of doing so and the likely return they will get on that investment. They have taken a decision to resource up to a realistic peak level for their business, and offer that capacity to their retail customers to ensure they deliver on their promise for themselves and for their retail partners. To do otherwise would be reckless, both from the point of view of their investors, their retail customers, and the end consumer.”
John Pal, is senior lecturer in retailing at Manchester Business School. He applauds the commitment to only making promises you can keep, but wonders if others in the market might use this as a way to steal business. “I see this not as a bold move but a sensible one. There is nothing worse than failing to meet a promise. One way that Yodel can meet its potential obligations is by setting very clear expectations about what it can deliver, and then meeting or even exceeding these.
“One issue for Yodel is whether there are other operators in the sector who can meet the predicted increased volumes and end up stealing their customers. But we know that delivery companies can tie themselves up in knots by trying to meet marked peaks in delivery and failing. Indeed Yodel know from experience how things can go wrong as witnessed by last Christmas’s debacle. It appears they have learned a valuable lesson from last year.”
Rob Mead, marketing manager at Parcel2Go, thinks Yodel’s decision could stop some retailers from being left with egg on their faces: “By limiting next day slots, Yodel is ensuring that it doesn’t over deliver to its customers which could result in disappointment. This year’s Black Friday is gearing up to be even busier than last year and it is far more damaging for a retailer to promise that they can deliver on a certain day and fail, than inform their customers there could be a small wait. Yodel’s decision shows that they put their customers first by ensuring that they can cope with the huge volume of deliveries that they are bound to receive without comprising on the quality.”
Jason Shorrock, retail strategy director at JDA, has the final word, for now at least. For him there is a clear and very real need to avoid severe delivery bottlenecks, but he questions the efficacy of a delivery cap: “Yodel’s announcement highlights just how much pressure events such as Black Friday can place on carriers. Our recent Customer Pulse report revealed that more than half of online shoppers who experienced problems at peak times in the last 12 months said they would be unlikely to shop with the same retailer this year. This underlines the need for retailers to ensure customer service excellence is maintained all year round, even during testing peak times.
“While Yodel, can be commended for trying to address the fulfilment challenges of Black Friday, a delivery cap seems to be an Elastoplast fix rather than a long-term solution. With Black Friday set to continue feeding the shopping frenzy, retailers and carriers must ensure they have the systems and processes in place to cope with the impact of peak periods, otherwise they will lose market share.”
Sometimes the choices we face are very binary – do something or do nothing. Occasionally it’s hard to know which is the right course of action. But to do nothing to try to mitigate the fallout from the November/December peak would be madness. Not least of all because of the way the mainstream media was able to fan the flames of a shopping panic, by declaring deliveries would fail to get people their online Christmas shopping in time. It transpired that things weren’t as black as they’d been painted, but it would be a brave move to do nothing, risk mishaps and face the ‘how did you fail to learn from last year?’ wave of opprobrium that would almost certainly follow.
As transparency increases across the delivery chain, shoppers will expect to have a greater say in who gets to deliver their shopping; where once free delivery & free returns was the carrot used to draw in customers, expect to see choose your preferred delivery partner being used instead. And once that genie is out of the bottle, things are going to get pretty rough for anyone deemed to be untrustworthy or lacking in commitment.