Each month, I log onto the Tesco.com website and place my food order. A few days later, in the evening, a delivery truck turns up within its allotted two hour slot, and a stack of crates arrives on my doorstep. This is against all odds.

You see, I live in an area of Bristol called Cotham, which is a lovely place but has an unfortunate habit of naming most of its streets Cotham "Something"; Cotham Road, Cotham Hill, Cotham Brow, Cotham Grove, Cotham Park, and inexplicably, Cotham Park North. I live at Cotham Park Mansions, which isn’t as glamorous as it sounds, imagine the Addams Family Mansion, carved up into flats.

Cotham Park Mansions is also positioned on a crossroads, so its entrance is theoretically on Archfield Road, and not Cotham Park North as insisted by address lookup engines. It also shares its driveway with Archfield House, another collection of flats.

Great, so you’ve just told potential stalker types your address, why?

Well, lets go back to Tesco, and the service they provide. Tesco only offer two hour delivery windows, delivery can be expensive (up to £6), and the Tesco.com website still has a predilection for occasionally serving its aspx files as downloads rather than webpages. So why do I continue to shop there, as opposed to Sainsburys.co.uk?

Because I know that Tesco will find where I live.

I was once tempted to try Sainsburys. I’d received a promotional email giving me free delivery, and something silly like 10% off my first order. Since Tesco.com still refuse to sort out my Clubcard (the site errors the moment I go near it) I had no incentive to continue shopping there.
Tesco Clubcard Error Message

Well, I'm not enjoying it so far

So I went ahead and placed my £150-odd order on the Sainsbury’s site. But alas, when I got to the checkout, I had no opportunity to enter any details to the driver to help them get to where I live. To make matters worse, the address lookup engine insisted that I lived at a completely different address on Cotham Park North, and didn’t give me enough field space to correct it.

Sainsburys don't offer anywhere to give delivery instructions
You will not find me using this address, and not just because it's blurry.

However, with trepidation and the firm belief that these people must know what they’re doing. I went ahead and placed the order to be delivered two days later.

The evening of delivery came, and I waited, safe in the knowledge that I only had an hour to wait, not two.

And so I waited. And waited. An hour and a half passed. Eventually I got a phone call. The driver couldn’t find where I lived. He’d gone to the wrong address. Sigh.

So, despite having a home delivery infrastructure, control over round sheet formatting and details, and an otherwise really rather good website, Sainsbury’s had decided not to ask for the crucial piece of information that would have made my first experience with them a success.

Right, they need to fix that. By the way, what makes you the expert on this?

Well, as you may know by now, I run a site that primarily serves the very elderly, which brings a whole other need for delivery instructions, our customer is likely to be visual and/or motor impaired.
Wiltshire Farm Foods gives plenty of space for delivery instructions

This is a typical example of the delivery instructions we receive

Which is why I continue to use Tesco. Tesco, you see, offer a large text box to enter the convoluted instructions needed to deliver to me.
Tesco allow you to enter basic delivery instructions

Why does this matter?

Well, after reading the recent post on bad etail delivery, it had me thinking. What does the consumer actually care about? I would suggest that number one thought in their mind is having the physical product in their hands. However, getting the delivery experience right seems to be the last thing on etailers minds.

How many people do you know who live in a house nowadays? Certainly in urban areas (where car ownership/use is lower than rural areas, to compound the matter) most folk live in flats, in carved up locations with multiple entry points, designed to get as many people per square foot as possible.

Again, if you don't monitor it, you can't improve it. Having an order feedback mechanism, that solicits feedback about the delivery experience, is crucial.  Expect the need for delivery instructions to increase.

Matthew Curry

Published 7 December, 2009 by Matthew Curry

Matt Curry is Head of E-commerce for online sex toy retailer LoveHoney. He spends a lot of time working on user experience and customer satisfaction is his highest priority. He frequently has to be penetration tested. You can follow him on Twitter, although he does often talk about dildos. He also has a LinkedIn profile, where he has to act professional.

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Comments (9)

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Jaamit Durrani

Jaamit Durrani, SEO Director at OMD UK

Great, simple tip that I bet most sites haven't even considered.  I have a similar problem (though not as messed up as yours) in that the numbering on my road was planned out by drunk people (it follows no logical pattern known to man) and my front door is hidden down the side of another house.  Most delivery people get confused, so "its on the side of 33" is a constant refrain to my favourite takeaways. 

However, on the plus side of your Sainsbury's experience I seem to remember they promise to refund part of your order or give you some sort of compensation if they fail to deliver within the 1 hour time slot.  So you could have fun and profit from watching the driver go up and down your street looking for your house, then come out and help him once he's officially late :)

over 8 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

Oh don't tell everyone, they'll all do it.

Oh go on then, might act as an "incentive" to Sainsburys to fix it.

over 8 years ago



I live in Cotham too (road), you could try the big Sainsburys on Whiteladies? Or Somerfields, although they *never* have any coriander. Or sell limes!

I have similar delivery problems, living in a flat round the back of one of Cothams lovely 'residences' that has about 5 front doors. The only people who consistently get it right it Dominos, who also have a delivery instructions box.

over 8 years ago


Marc Munier

It's amazing how the little things still make the biggest difference, here is a great example I came across when ordering a new bed(warren evans):

  • RED - ASAP. You will have the next available date to your area.
  • ORANGE - 2-3 weeks. Together we can decide on a day that is best for you (and for us too).
  • YELLOW - 3-4 weeks. Not in a rush, we won't deliver until you are ready for it.
  • GREEN - Opt for our next environmentally friendly run and help reduce carbon emissions.

This makes so much more sense than Express or standard.

I've spoken to 3 people who have highlighted how good they thought the overall experience was  - they all mentioned delivery, when was the last time you heard someone rave about the delivery options!

Clearly an area retailers can differentiate.

over 8 years ago


Alastair McKenzie

... and you're talking about the posh end of the delivery chain, companies with their own or dedicated (Ocado) delivery services. Most smaller e-tailers at the bottom of the chain use Royal Mail, who, despite all their faults (a tendency to strike) usually know all the local address glitches.

The real problem comes in the middle ground: all those retailers who use third party parcel/courier companies. At their best, they cope with address vagaries but always fail on time-slots (I honestly can't remember ever receiving goods in their allocated time-slot). 

In my block of gated flats we know never to expect goods to be delivered on the first attempt. If they find the address, the drivers give up trying to work the intercom on the gate. I work from home and regularly find "you weren't in" notes when I've been there all day.

Delivery note memo fields certainly should help, but as I discovered from half a dozen different Dell deliveries (and collections) earlier this year, that field is not always reproduced on the driver's copy!

PS It's a good job I'm not printing/mailing this. I have just run out of printer ink because the delivery I was expecting a week ago has still not been delivered :)

over 8 years ago



Yemeksepeti.com in Turkey (kind of like zanzibar) has had this for years now.  Mainly because formal addresses are way too difficult for delivery guys to figure out.  I've also used the same spot to ask if the delivery guy could pick up a pack of smokes for me..

It's true though.. In the name of standardization and formalization, user experience is usually hindered.

over 8 years ago



Good point.

I have a similar kind of issue. Our place isn't easy to find but some couriers and/or takeaway places find it no problem and others struggle.

It's due to thoughtfulness, something I've written about here - http://isemann.posterous.com/what-the-hole-in-the-chinese-take-away-lid-ta

Incidentally, finding us is one of the issues too.


over 8 years ago

Stuart Wilson

Stuart Wilson, Sales Director at Advanced Labelling Ltd

See, the problem I've found with this is that people ask for outlandish things we can't do eg. "if not in, please leave with 4, 6, 8, 10 or 82" & "knock on door Staccato style to ensure guard dog is calmed".

That aside, it's worrying that supermarkets can get this so wrong given their budgets.

over 8 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Matthew,

Good post. Making delivery easy and reliable is one of the most important factors in driving repeat business (as well as initial conversion).

If you go back to the 2007 Econsultancy Checkout report as well as Metapack research (no bias obviously!), poor delivery options and confusing delivery information (including not being able to give specific instructions) are two of the big barriers to online shopping. 

Alastair makes a good point about couriers but the tech exists to improve the service to customer. I personally would not work with a courier who didn't allow you to pipe delivery instructions from the web to the courier system.

Back in 2006 I trialled an SMS service with InterLink (customer gets an SMS day parcel is dispatched and again on morning of first delivery attempt; they can then text back an alt delivery date using keypad numbers) and we reduced the failed first delivery rate (I can't remember exact % but it more than paid for the cost of the SMS service).

Some couriers will also get their drivers to phone the customer when en route if there is a problem - this is usually for large ticket items like furniture but I've seen it available for general parcels as well. Yes it costs you more but what is more costly in the long-run, a higher cost per parcel delivery service or an increased failed delivery rate, high returns and drop off in repeat business? If a business thinks there is no ROI and customer service should be sacrificed for profit, at least run a trial for a month and learn what the real cost/benefit is.

Often it is the retailer's website that fails, as you allude to. There is no excuse for poor or misleading information. If you want to take the money, you should make sure you take into consideration the customers needs. Delivery options and information should be clear across the site, from policy pages to product pages and basket. Being able to add delivery instructions should be standard, not a luxury.

over 8 years ago

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