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?
Graham Charlton

Published 24 November, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (10)

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Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

Of course, if a customer has had a bad delivery experience, then you're lucky if they tell you about it, rather than just go elsewhere, and in which case you can work to make it a "wow" experience with your customer service.

Giving a mechanism for order feedback really helps solicit comments. Remember that the delivery experience isn't just how the good were received, but the cost of delivery, the order packaging, all the way through to the associated documentation. I know that if you rely upon a 3rd party courier then you can't sculpt the experience as much as you would like, but you can certainly enhance those things under your control.

over 8 years ago



This is a serious problem. I work in an ecommerce agency, and over the years we've tried a couple of couriers. The one we work with now isn't "the best", it's just the lesser evil.

It can't even be solved by spending more money, or whatever else. It just seems there is NO truly good courier service out there.

over 8 years ago


Philip Wilkinson

I completely agree.  An e-commerce retailer must see their delivery and customer service as core to what they offer.  After all, if they don't get this right, then they will lose the business elsewhere.

The best delivery I ever had was from a company that put a note through my door when I wasn't in that said:

"Sorry you weren't in - we completely understand.  Please log in to our website below and enter the attached code at your convenience.  You can then choose the exact date and 1hr time window for us to come back".

Lo and behold it worked like a charm.   I just can't remember who the delivery company was...

over 8 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

Hi Philip, was it DPD by any chance? they just won an national business award for doing just that.

over 8 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Graham

Anything involving people and technology is prone to error and service issues. You can't get it 100% right all the time. However, there are ways to minimise and manage problems:

1. You can insist on tight SLAs with couriers that include punitive clauses if delivery standards are not met

2. Focus on customer service channels to encourage feedback

3. Monitor conversations about your brand and respond

4. Employ mystery shoppers to test the delivery experience

5. Analyse delivery quality by area - sometimes it is a local franchise of a national courier that is the problem, not the courier company itself and you have to isolate this and address

6. Think laterally - look at options such as SMS confirmation the day before delivery and a reminder the morning you are delivering - improve chances of customer being in

It is amazing that Sarah only found 26% of companies allow delivery instructions, such as basic function to include in the checkout.



over 8 years ago


Sandra Patterson

I completely agree.  I frequently advise customers that they need to look at the TRUE cost of delivery, and this is more than just the faceline price.  Retailers have to consider the costs of re-delivery, of lost customers, of chasing and following up failed collections, failed deliveries, deliveries made to next door neighbours and wheelie bins.

The economy parcel services give a window for delivery that can be anything upto 5 days.  Customers, particularly over the christmas period, when they're perhaps ordering expensive products, are not going to accept "it will be delivered sometime in the next 5 days" as an appropriate answer.

Retailers need to look about what their choice of delivery says to the customer about how they value the customer.  If you're despatching using bargain rate economy, 5 day delivery services then your customer really isn't going to feel valued, and will shopping elsewhere next time.

over 8 years ago




I am looking at you comments now because I have received the (or not as the case is) the worst delivery service possible from HDNL on behalf of Amazon.

1 – The package was due for delivery on Monday 21 and understandably this delivery was aborted due to the weather conditions. However as a note royal mail delivered the second package which was ordered at the same time from Amazon on Monday 21 am.

2 – I spoke to the HDNL customer services who guaranteed delivery on Tuesday 22.

3 – I called HDNL on Tuesday 22 am to make sure the package would be delivered and once again I was guaranteed the package would be delivered by the end of the day.

4 – When no package had arrived by 18:00 on Tuesday I called customer services once again to be told the depot involved had forgotten to put my package on the delivery lorry and would now only be able to deliver on Wednesday 23.

5 – It is now Wednesday 23 and I have discovered this morning that not only is my package not going to be delivered today but HDNL have actually forgot to mention that they have lost my package and only following 4 phone calls have they told me that yes they have now located my package but once again will not be delivering until tomorrow. During finding this information out I have had to call a total of 11 times and have had the phone put down on me 4 times by HDNL!!!!! (I think it’s what HDNL call customer service)

The question I am left asking is will this package ever arrive or will it always be tomorrow from HDNL.

The only positive is that Amazon have reissued my items for express delivery and Amazons direct customer service has been impeccable.

over 8 years ago


Matt Churchill

I too have had issues with HDNL – I ordered a pair of trainers from Size, had the day off work especially to get the package, waited all day but to no avail.

When i went to check the hall in the block of flats where i live, a calling card had been left saying they’d attempted to order the package, yet they’d never rung the door buzzer! (i’d not miss it, it’s very loud and my flat is only small!)

I subsequently asked if i could change the delivery address and they refused, so i asked for it to be left with a nieghbour who then refused to accept the parcel.

The package is now back at the suppliers.

I can’t believe that a delivery company would be so unhelpful as to not allow an address change, and i can’t believe that Size would use such a poor delivery company.

I have contacted Size customer service and I await their feedback as to what my options are. Not happy at all!

over 8 years ago



Tesco sold me a Hoover Candy washing machine which arrived with a broken drum. It haemorrhaged soapy water all over my kitchen floor. It then took one month of waiting, two days off work, plus a fortune in laundry bills, to discover the problem. I was promised engineers would turn up within agreed times but they failed to do so. Tesco now say they've run out of these machines and can't replace with a similar quality because the discount has run out. Hoover Candy are equally bad, being uable to produce an engineer at an agreed time and isisting on mending a brand new machine that arrived broken. I've told them both to shove it. This ranks amongst my worst ever shopping experiences.

over 8 years ago



I use TrueShip's ReadyShipper for all my shipping for my online store and it has simplified everything.  I even get a sizable discount on all my USPS priority and express mail now, which I didn't even think was possible.  It has greatly improved the service I am able to provide and the speed at which I get my packages shipped out.  I was doing about 15-20 packages an hour before and I am at nearly 75 packages per hour now.  It automatically emails the customer after I process an order so I never have to worry about letting the customer know the package has been shipped.  I also sell on eBay and Amazon and I can connect to both storefronts and automatically pull in all my orders.  Can't beat that!  Great article and ReadyShipper is a great way to make some of the shipping changes you recommend.  Keep up the great work eConsultancy!

almost 8 years ago

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