I was surprised by an article I’ve just seen in The Telegraph covering a Which? survey on deliveries by online retailers, which found that nearly 7% of customers were unhappy with deliveries.

According to Which?, almost 200 out of 2,500 customers surveyed reported some kind of delivery issues, and  some of them are shocking. In one case, a laptop was thrown over a six foot wall, items were left in dustbins, while others were simply left carelessly in public view.

For an online retailer, especially in the case of pure-plays, the main contact they have with customers is through the website and customer services, or when products are delivered.

While retailers looking to build a good reputation with customers can control the first two points of contact by providing a usable website and excellent customer services, they are, especially in the case of smaller retailers, at the mercy of Royal Mail and couriers when it comes to getting goods to customers.

Sadly, a bad experience with delivery will reflect badly on the retailer in question, and make it less likely that people will shop again after such poor service, and also they are likely to tell friends and family about their experience.

Sarah Clelland of Snow Valley isn’t surprised by the results of the survey: 

I’d love to say that the Which? survey gives an exaggerated picture of crazy behaviour by some couriers, but unfortunately it’s in line with what we’re seeing. We placed 137 orders in September for the new edition of our Delivery Report. The vast majority of these came to the office and so there wasn’t any need for deliveries to be made in unorthodox ways.

However, there was one package from a very large retailer that was delivered to my flat and I came home to find it in the bath – the courier had thrown it through an open window. Part of me was outraged by this, but part of me was quite pleased that they’d shown a bit of initiative – no damage was done and at least I had received my delivery without having to rearrange it.

So what can retailers do about it?

  • Don’t just choose the cheapest courier. Saving money here may be tempting, but delivering the right level of service is more important in the long run.
  • Offer special delivery instructions. This will allow users to specify a safe place to leave good in case they are out. However, caution should be exercised here, as unclear instructions could lead to goods being lost or damaged.

    According to Sarah: “only 26% of the sites we bought from allowed us to give delivery instructions. If couriers are willing to follow instructions to make sure that the delivery is successful, then surely it makes sense to ask the customer what they want to happen if they’re not in?”

  • Offer delivery to work addresses. This ensures that someone will be there to accept the delivery, and avoids the risk of leaving it outside.
  • Have a proof of delivery service. If you want to play it safe, then this will remove any ambiguity and ensure that goods are delivered, though this means additional costs.
  • Decide who is going to communicate with customers about delivery issues.  It may be best to manage this in-house where you can control it, but if not, make sure the courier is equipped to handle customer queries. If something goes wrong with an order, it is possible to retrieve a bad situation with good customer service.
  • Deal with the issue effectively. If a customer has had a poor delivery experience, then you need to contact them and resolve the issue promptly. Better to give the customer freebies or discounts than to lose that customer for life and have them tell everyone about their bad experience with you.
  • Choose couriers carefully. What size is your business and will that affect how your business is
    viewed by the courier and the priority given to your customer’s
    orders? Is the courier aready delivering similar goods and providing similar delivery options?