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Retail fulfillment is stuck in the past: industry opinion


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Laura-Jayne Winning, On the dot

Convenient delivery services are crucial as UK ecommerce market soars, writes Laura-Jayne Winning, sales & marketing manager at CitySprint’s recently launched On the dot.

Last week you might have read about several London employers no longer allowing workers’ personal deliveries to be sent to their offices, citing security issues and the cost of processing a soaring number of parcels. Canary Wharf employers such as American Express, Citigroup and JP Morgan were named, as were some government departments, with more London employers likely to follow.

The real issue isn’t whether employers should allow personal deliveries, but why some employees send personal packages to the office in the first place. Cramped, rush-hour commutes don’t get any easier when carrying a parcel, and even junior bankers make it home to sleep occasionally, so why do they not just send it to their house? The answer is that home delivery is failing customers.

Simply put, retailers and their fulfillment partners are stuck in the past. Most deliveries are still scheduled at times when everyone is at work, and so most take the form of the dreaded “sorry we missed you” card through the letterbox. We all know the inconvenience that this causes.

This approach just does not work for the new breed of online shoppers. Many consumers, especially millennials, are used to a two-way interaction with brands that involves dealing with them on their own terms. They tweet consumer accounts on their morning commute, shop online when they can’t sleep and take other factors into consideration before making a purchase.

The one-size-fits-all approach to delivery is no longer enough. Instead, retailers should start by listening to what their customers want, then seeking to provide these options cost-effectively. This may mean faster delivery in some cases, but not all. Research from JDA and Centiro showed that convenience was the most important factor in delivery, followed by cost. So retailers should prioritise being able to offer a suite of options, such as timed delivery and secondary drop-off points, and leave it to customers to decide what works for them. This two-way relationship should inform the whole delivery journey by using GPS, text messages and email to communicate parcel location.

Of course, these new innovations shouldn’t further reduce already narrow margins. Retailers often cause more harm than good by making costly promises, like unlimited free shipping and flexible delivery times unchanged by peak demand. Poor service around Black Friday 2014, for example, led to considerable damage for some brands as well as severe irritation on the part of customers.

Thankfully, the response to costing new approaches should be familiar – a more open and honest relationship between customers and retailers. John Lewis and Tesco have led the way by indicating that free click-and-collect services are not sustainable; Yodel has put a cap in place for Black Friday deliveries. Retailers and carriers owe their customers an open conversation around last mile capacity and costs to find a way forward that serves all parties.

Really listening to what it is that customers want needs to be at the heart of all new service developments in the delivery sector. At On the dot, we conducted a series of focus groups across Britain, and found that customers want a cost-effective, reliable delivery when they know they will be there to receive it; it was clear customers are frustrated with the rigid delivery model more generally available. That informed the decisions we made when it came to developing On the dot.

Ecommerce delivery is an issue that is not going away. The British Retail Consortium’s Online Sales Monitor showed ecommerce sales increased 14.7% in July compared to 2014. Despite this, our research shows that London consumers have waited up to eight and a half hours for deliveries, so poor service continues to cause brand damage.

There has been upheaval in the carrier space in the last 12 months, but cost-effective delivery need not be limited to the largest retailers or logistics companies. We will see a lot more innovation in the delivery space in the coming years, and those that are willing to genuinely listen to their customers and take their requests on board will be the ones still standing a decade from now.

On the dot is a specified one-hour retail delivery service in London

Header image by Elf (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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