A prime question: ‘one-day delivery’ guarantees and eCommerce

Delivery times and costs are an essential component and differentiator between eCommerce retailers, and it seems that a growing number of businesses are vying for first place in this delivery race. While delivery times have certainly become quicker in the past few years, the advertising claims made by eCommerce businesses have not been as quick to adapt and provide customers with the full picture. Amazon has built up a reputation as the “go-to” online retailer, renowned the world over for its high-speed delivery services, however, the online giant was recently banned from promising one-day delivery in its advertisements by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – precisely for not delivering on this very promise.

The recent ASA adjudication specifically relates to Amazon’s claims of “Unlimited One-Day Delivery on millions of eligible items” used in its advertising for Amazon Prime memberships. The ASA opened its investigation following complaints of hundreds of disappointed Prime members in the run up to Christmas 2017. After failing to receive their Amazon orders by the following day, many Prime customers believed that the “one-day delivery” claims made in Amazon Prime advertisements were ultimately misleading.

Amazon gave two lines of defence against these complaints. The first of these was that the promise of a “one-day delivery” did not necessarily mean a one-day delivery after ordering, rather a promise to deliver the products a day after products had been despatched. Unsurprisingly, the ASA did not agree with this since consumers were highly unlikely to interpret the claim in this way. This is not to mention that the copy explaining the specific details of the claim were placed on a separate page on the Amazon website. The ASA also took the view that in reality, promising a delivery date that could indeed amount to a similar wait time as expected by non-Prime users, was hardly a selling point to Prime customers.

Amazon went on to suggest as its second line of defence that customers were always provided with delivery timing forecasts throughout every customer journey and product order, and that these were accurate. The ASA however argued that while this was true, it did not verify Amazon’s use of the “One-Day Delivery” statement to describe and significantly, promote its services. The unique selling point of Amazon Prime memberships quite clearly is this delivery speed claim, and the fact that this was not always met meant that it was judged to be misleading customers.

This ruling demonstrates that retailers (and eCommerce retailers in particular) must be cautious when making claims about their services. Even when customers’ expectations are met in most cases, retailers should still be careful not to make claims that can be in any way disproven or found to be misleading. Amazon could be said to be a victim of its own success, having cultivated an identity as one of the fastest retailers when delivering products.

It is likely that we will continue to see further clampdowns by the ASA in its dealings with eCommerce businesses, since the eCommerce market is still in a state of rapid development, with new actors continuing to emerge. As retailers’ services and deliveries move to adapt to changing technologies and consumer demands, so too must advertising practices and messaging. eCommerce retailers must be transparent in their claims on delivery services and where delivery cannot be 100% guaranteed in one-day, this must be made absolutely clear to avoid being misleading.