Saturday, 13 February 2010

Online shopping: delivery - the last mile is still an issue, are solutions in sight?

I've gone on and on for ages about one big problem with internet shopping - having to be home to receive the delivery.

One advantage of Amazon Marketplace, which enables independent retailers to sell their goods via Amazon, is that once Amazon have verified a customer and their alternative addresses e.g. their workplace, orders from a Marketplace seller can be delivered to the customer's address registered with Amazon if the consumer wishes - including the office.

Unsurprisingly, the Interactive Media in Retail Group, a UK trade body for e-retailers, recently said they'd found that:

"the major area for parcel delivery businesses to work on is giving consumers a day or time as to when they will receive their goods, rather than them having to guess when they will come… when you ask consumers what they want to make deliveries more convenient, nearly eight out of ten are looking for a specific delivery day, and seven out of ten are looking for a time delivery".

So it's good that UK parcel carrier DPD have developed systems to enable them to offer 1-hour windows for home deliveries to customers of retailers like Three, Dixons Direct and

"Shoppers who buy from retailers shipping with DPD can receive a free SMS or email giving them a precise one hour window in which the driver will arrive. And, if the recipient of the SMS knows that they won’t be in to sign for the package, they can reply and arrange for DPD to deliver on a more convenient date."

To me, that's still not good enough - a 1-hour window is no use if it's not a window of the consumer's choice - I'd rather a 2 or 3 hour window I could pick when I know I'm going to be in. Having to arrange with work etc to be at home for a 1-hour window I can't control isn't much better than having to take half a day or a whole day off.

Back in December 2009 startup Shutl launched to much fanfare at LeWeb09 and supposedly, by connecting retailers with local same-day courier companies, gives online shoppers the choice of receiving delivery:

  • "within 90 minutes of purchase or
  • a one-hour time window of consumer's choice", apparently at almost any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Now that sounds much better from a consumer viewpoint. However, they say they're only trialling in London currently and, unlike DPD, haven't announced which retailers are using them, which suggests it's not many. The idea is great but they'd better get a move on…

It's interesting that according to IMRG and Internet Retailing, health and beauty retailer Boots is considering letting other pure play and multi-channel retailers use Boots' 2600 stores as pick-up points for their online shopping customers. Much more convenient to be able to collect your order from the Boots store nearest your work or home, e.g. at the weekend. (And Argos, anyone?)

However, I'm surprised that credit card companies haven't reached deals to "register" work addresses so that consumers can use their credit cards to get orders delivered to their offices, or that supermarkets like Tesco's which do offer short delivery windows of the customer's choice haven't made arrangements with retailers to make their deliveries for them (as I've suggested before).

Things still have too far to go on the delivery front, in my view. Online shopping has grown and grown, but it still has much potential, and it's about time fulfilment channels were sorted out properly to enable that potential to be met.

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