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Is 21st century online shopping held back by Victorian technology?

The huge growth in online sales where customers buy anything you can imagine from a swathe of exciting and powerful websites and e-tailers, often via their mobile phone, certainly feels suitably high-tech for the 21st century.

But even the most modern and hi-tech technology can bump into some very old limitations. For example, even the space shuttle had a key part of the design limited by the width of...two horses’ backsides! (http://news.softpedia.com/news/What-Is-the-Link-Between-a-Horse-039-s-Arse-and-Space-Shuttles-53408.shtml)

Online shopping has a similar historic constraint. The most modern and up to date online retailer has to contend with a challenge set about 150 years ago because at some point the customer expects to actually receive the products they have ordered. And that’s when the shiny technology experience can come crashing down to the tedious reality of parcels, vans and the frustration of most modern parcels not fitting through a standard UK letterbox - introduced circa 1859.

Modern life does not come in 12” x 2” packages. Well, not all the time anyway, and so the challenge of successful delivery has grown in line with the explosion of online sales. But whilst online retailers put huge effort into their websites, they don’t seem to apply the same focus to that last link in the chain.

Some recent online shopping in my household has generated (in two weeks):

- one parcel left with our next-door neighbour (a day earlier than the delivery was booked for)

- two parcels left over five houses away

- one parcel jammed through our letterbox using some “creative” folding

- one delivery to the door (Tesco)

Of these five deliveries so far only one has been in the right place and on the right day. None of them sent any text or even an email confirming the delivery date or time.

Over the same time period we also had two deliveries from Ocado and my colleagues in the office have had several parcels from Asos (delivered by DPD). Both Ocado and Asos provide simple text messages with delivery times, confirmations and updates.

- Ocado takes the friendly and personal approach – giving customers the name of the driver and the van that will be making the delivery. So last night I had a message letting me know that Steve would be pulling up in the Strawberry van.

- Asos are more operational – confirming a one-hour window for the delivery and giving me the option to arrange for delivery next door, or tomorrow... by text.

Do customers really want this? Recent research from DPD showed that one in five customers think retailers could do more to keep customers informed about their delivery. They also found that 91% would be happy for retailers to email or text them with delivery details.

So these simple communications leave the customer happy, comfortable and in control, and help improve DPD’s successful deliveries by over 250,000 per month.

Getting this communication right benefits the delivery company (improved operational performance) and the retailer (better customer experience). But if it is managed badly then we, as customers, tend to associate poor performance with the retailer not the delivery company.

I’ve blogged about this before (see http://www.rapide.co.uk/about/customer-experience-blog/voc-is-mission-critical-if-you-re-outsourcing-anything/) – the poor service hits the retailer’s brand first, because that is who we are buying from.

One of our telecommunications clients started using us to listen to their customers’ rants and raves, and identified the number one issue making their customers rant was...yep you’ve guessed it, poor delivery.

The single biggest cause of customer dissatisfaction for that client was actually a service provided by someone else!

The client took action, of course, and switched to a new delivery supplier (DPD). Problem solved – delivery issues no longer feature anywhere in the top ten causes of customer rants.


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