In the past few years, thanks to retailers and couriers offering more delivery options, deadlines for Christmas delivery have been getting later. However, the snow has thrown a spanner in the works, and some retailers are now bringing these dates forward.
For example, while Amazon had planned to promise Christmas delivery for orders placed up to December 23, it is now unable to offer any guarantees.
Depending where you live, you may still be able to order online and get items delivered by Christmas, but are online retailers informing customers effectively before they begin shopping?
For retailers that can offer delivery after the deadlines of competitors have passed, there is a chance to attract sales from last minute shoppers. However, customers may not forgive retailers who stuff up their Christmas shopping, so promises need to be kept.
Also, since different areas of the country are more severely affected by the snow than others, retailers need to provide information on where they can deliver. For example, even if retailers are delivering elsewhere, it may not be possible in Scotland and the north east.
So how are retailers getting the message across to customers?
John Lewis has taken a sensible approach by deciding not to take any more orders in time for Christmas.
This may mean some lost sales, but is far better than taking orders and disappointing customers by failing to deliver in time. Also, John Lewis does have a Click & Collect option it can promote as an alternative.
Importantly, the retailers leaves customers in no doubt at all by displaying this message prominently on the homepage:
However, a message at the top of every page on the site, on product or shopping basket pages would also be a good idea. If you arrive via a product search, you can get halfway through the checkout before finding out that items will be delivered after Christmas.
Amazon normally offers deliveries right up to the 23rd, but has decided to stop now. Better to do this than annoy customers.
There is a note on the homepage, but it isn't as prominent as that on John Lewis. Also, customers can arrive at product pages via search engines have to go past the payment stage before they find out.
Information is harder to find from the Argos homepage, a small link leads to this information:
There is a link to find out more, but it doesn't offer information on any areas which may have been impacted by the weather.
At the top of the homepage, and every page on the site, the cutoff dates for Christmas delivery are clearly shown, along with a 'weather update' link. This means that, even if customers enter the site direct to a product page, they can find this information.
Under the weather update information, Firebox makes it clear which areas and postcodes they are unable to deliver to before Christmas.
Below this information, Firebox states that, though Royal Mail is still saying December 21 is the cutoff for packet deliveries, it doesn't believe this to be a reliable estimate, based on its own feedback and tracking.
It's good to see that the retailer is not just taking Royal Mail's word for it, and is considering the effect on customers.
Debenhams will still take orders up to December 22, with some exceptions. These are shown in a table:
While the information is there, it may be easier to list towns and counties as well so customers can easily scan the information.
There are a variety of different approaches to this issue from retailers. Most have some sort of Christmas delivery / weather updates on their sites, though some, such as Play.com, have no information at all.
The key is to keep customers informed and manage expectations about delivery timescales. As Amazon, John Lewis and others have decided, it may be better not to offer Christmas delivery at all than to let customers down.