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The website is fantastic, the call centre staff polite and efficient, and the stores magical – but the carrier left the package on the doorstep in the rain or pushed the failed delivery card through the letterbox, fleeing before the shopper reached the front door. All too often it has been the final delivery stage that sours the customer experience, turning positive advocacy into a highly negative tweet. With ever-more demanding consumers, retailers determined to improve customer service and carriers equally determined to keep delivery contracts, the old ‘tip and run’ approach is fast disappearing. Today’s delivery drivers actually smile, while emails giving the estimated delivery window are becoming commonplace. “Last year we were the lowest-rated carrier on Trustpilot,” says Dick Stead, executive chairman of yodel, “so we had to do something.” the solution was to launch a Customer Experience Academy, complete with NVQ qualifications and government funding. By next year all Yodel-s staff will have taken the course, with the assessor accompanyng the driver on his round to make sure the lessons are being put into practice before the NVQ can be awared. Already the Trustpilot reviews are improving: “We’ve picked up 270 major new contracts this year,” adds Stead, ” and they’re not just on price-retailers can see what their customers think of us and we’re retaining contracts.” Central to many complaints about carriers is the basic fact that the customer has a contract with the retailer not with the carrier, which must stick to the service-level agreements contracted with the retailer. While some retailers are happy for parcels to be left in a safe place, others may insist on a signature and the good accepted in person. So while a driver may be calling on a particular customer regularly and know just where they like thei r parcels left if they’re out, occasionally – and much to the customer’s irritation – he’ll sometimes have to leave a failed delivery card instead. “Customers are not very forgiving,” says Stead, “and if the delivery doesn’t go perfectly they’ll complain.”


As well as helpful and polite delivery drivers, Yodel – as with most other major carriers – has also invested heavily in improving parcel tracking system available on its website, with updates every 15 minutes or so as the parcel is scanned at each stage of its journey. This information is also fed through to the retailer’s customer service department so that call centre staff can handle an ‘wismo’ – where is my order? – calls. Providing an estimated time of arrival (ETA) is also seen as essential. “DPD has really set the bar with its 15-minute delivery windows,” says Tim Brown, sales and marketing director at City Link, “and all other carriers have been following suit.” Typically carriers will email or text the customer first thing inn the morning, with window, with further alerts to follow if there is any change due to traffic problems. “Our customer service team has a 60-inch display screen showing the vans via a GPS tracking system and they will flash amber or red if they’re deviating from schedule so that we can advise customers of any delay,” says Colin McCarthy, managing director of Panther. While tracking and ETAs have transformed home delivery services in the past couple of years, there is now a raft of collection, same-day and dropbox options available for shoppers to choose from. City Link, for example, is working with dropbox provider Inpost which expects to have 2,000 locations in the UK within 18 months; while in Ireland, Nightline has launched Parcel Motels where shoppers can pick up from or return to locker boxes.


“Click and collect is the biggest growth area for us,” says City Link’s Brown, “and some of our retail clients now have more than half of their online orders being collected from stores.” Fulfilment from store needs real-time inventory visibility to ensure that the goods are available to promise, so it is not surprising that most retailers prefer to fulfil such orders from the warehouse. “Some of the work is overnight for next-day collection,” says Brown, “but most retailers work to longer time-scales as it can take them two days to pick and pack at the warehouse. Parcel companies love click and collect as there is no carding – the shop will be open and there’ll always be someone in to receive the parcel.” According to etail trade association IMRG, clickand-collect services currently account for more than 46 million parcels a year across the UK and are likely to reach 165 million parcels by 2017.



“Some people are never in and fewer than half of the parcels we deliver include details of the recipient’s mobile or email, so it is difficult to contact them to reschedule. From late Q1 we’ll be taking the parcels to the nearest CollectPlus rather than simply leave a card.”

Dick Stead, executive chairman, Yodel


“The cross-border shopping experience has to feel the same as an in-country one, so for a UScustomer buying from a UK website, the parcel arrives with local-style labels looking just as if it had been despatched from the US.”

Stuart Hill, managing director, wnDirect


“We are aware that our carriers are not working uniquely for us and also that home delivery demand is outstripping capacityWe don’t want to be in a position where we can’t honour our commitments to our customers.”

Dino Rocos, operations director, John Lewis


For many shoppers, collecting orders from a convenient nearby location rather than a town centre store is a preferable option and CollectPlus is now handling 5.7 million transactions a year from 5,500 collection points, and working with more than 260 retail brands. CollectPlus was launched in 2009 as a joint venture by Yodel and PayPoint and starting from early 2014, some failed Yodel deliveries will be left at CollectPlus outlets for collection. Unlike the Post Office , most shops offering CollectPlus are open seven days a week for up to 24 hours a day. According to CollectPlus, 40 per cent of users sending or dropping off parcels do so outside traditional opening hours so the customer experience. Asda , too, is looking to improve collection options, working with Transport for London (TfL) to offer grocery click-and-collect services initially at six London Underground station car parks. The service initially offers same-day online ordering (before noon), and collection of Asda products from after 4pm at East Finchley, Harrow and Wealdstone, High Barnet, Highgate, Stanmore and Epping stations. More locations across London and the South East are expected this year. “We’ve led the way in click and collect by bringing Asda to where customers are rather than expecting them to come to us,” says Mark Ibbotson, Asda’s retail director. “We believe customers will value the convenience of collecting shopping at their home tube station rather than carrying products bought in premium convenience stores on their commute home.”

John Lewis looks for total control

Owning the final fulfilment stage in the customer journey is important for brand conscious retailers.

UK supermarkets have all rolled out online grocery using in-house distribution fleets, although elsewhere in Europe groceries are being delivered by carriers and postal services. For companies such as John Lewis , which already has its own two-man fleet, ensuring that one-man parcel trucks are similarly branded is an important consideration. “We need to keep our delivery model flexible to reflect changes in customer demand,” says operations director Dino Rocos, “and we have an uncomfortable reliance on the carrier network. Although we have good relations with our three main carriers, who all have stability, we know that some carriers are in a financially precarious position and some are not moving forward as we would like, so we are looking to do one-man deliveries with our own fleet in future.” The plan is to monitor the geographical distribution of home-delivery orders and, as the numbers in any location stack up, then a one-man delivery fleet will be introduced into that region. “We will need to see which locations provide for costeffective growth,” says Rocos.

“In future, same-day delivery will also be necessary so lead-time for pick to fulfilment has to reduce – from 24 hours to 12 hours, and maybe eight hours.”


Rapid delivery options are also on the agenda for many retailers and Shutl – now owned by eBay – argues ultimately customers will start to regard them as standard. “Customer expectations are going to change because of what the world’s largest retailers are doing,” says its chief executive, Tom Allason. “Customer expectations only ever move forwards,” he adds. Shutl’s 90-minute services are now available for around 85 per cent of UK postcodes as well as in New York City, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco, with 25 more cities to be rolled out during 2014.

“What we’re doing is not about delivery, it’s about that customer experience,” says Allason. “It’s about delighting our retail partner’s customers. Our net promoter score is higher than any retailer in the world, including Apple .”

Instant same-day delivery also has the retail advantage of presenting the customer with the goods before they have a chance to change their mind – which may or may not enhance the actual ‘experience’. Panther, for example, has started handling drop-ship consignments on a next-day delivery basis. Orders are collected from the supplier overnight and shipped to the customer next day: “It reduces the likelihood that the customer will change their mind,” says Colin McCarthy. “If it takes several days for a big-ticket item to arrive there is a chance the customer may see something they prefer in the shops and cancel the order.” As with store-fulfield click and collect, same-day delivery requires good inventory visibility or some form of local warehouse: perhaps a larger branch acting as a stock portal for the area or a dark store. Amazon took this local approach when it leased a series of small delivery stations last year to act as local hubs. Bringing goods closer to the customer enables later order acceptance and potentially same-day delivery. Yodel is also embracing local and will be introducing a service this year which will involve contacting customers when the goods are at a depot within five miles of them, and asking when they would like the goods delivered or where they’d prefer to collect the items from.


Receiving a nicely packed item in a smart box – either delivered or collected – is all part of the customer experience. Something slightly battered and covered with assorted labels inevitably makes a negative impact and can be a major problem with cross-border sales. “If the parcel looks messy then customers can lose confidence in the efficiency of the retailer,” says Stuart Hill, managing director of wnDirect . “It needs to look as though it has been despatched in-country and hasn’t been through the mill or stuck in customs.”

Founded in 2011 and with turnover now at £50 million, wnDirect has grown rapidly and currently handles deliveries to 16 countries, in most cases catering for both inbound and outbound traffic. “Customs can be a black hole in cross-border sales so we’ve built a customs solution that gives visibility and tracks the parcel through customs,” says Hill, “If there is a problem we can alert the retailer who can advise the customer that the consignment is delayed and so keep them happy.”


Parcel carriers have worked hard at improving the sector’s image, investing heavily in systems to enable better parcel tracking and estimated delivery times as well as improving staff skills. Carriers are also watching social networking and review sites to combat criticisms and increase customer satisfaction. In a competitive market carriers know that they need to deliver not just parcels on time but a positive customer experience as well to stay in business.

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