But before we get into the stats, a quick word on why fulfilment is so important.

And for more on this topic, read our articles on the growing popularity of click-and-collect and how retailers are preparing their fulfilment networks for Black Friday 2015.

The last mile

Delivery is key, and it is here that retailers have to work as hard as they can to manage and meet customers’ expectations. 

It is also an area, for the vast majority of retailers anyway, over which they have less direct control, having to outsource to third party couriers. 

So, you can have great products at attractive prices, provide an excellent online experience, but then the crucial final step is in the hands of a courier.

ASOS’s array of delivery options

The problem is, if things go wrong, it’s the retailer that gets the blame.  

In a competitive marketplace, delivery and returns are a way for retailers to differentiate themselves. 

What do consumers want from delivery? 

What does a good delivery experience look like? A few suggestions: 

  • Clear, accurate tracking online. This can save a lot of wasted time, and reduce pressure on call centres. 
  • Informative, proactive communication (text, phone or email updates). SMS notifications can be great for this.
  • Good levels of communication when problems (inevitably) occur. Even the best online retailers will experience delivery issues now and then.

    The key here is to communicate with customers – don’t make them work too hard to find out about their delivery. 

  • Non premium rate phone numbers to call at the courier. Premium rate phone numbers for customer service are a big mistake. Don’t make customers pay when you have cocked up. 
  • Greater levels of support from the retailer. As a retailer, it’s not enough to just palm delivery problems off onto the courier and have customers chasing their order up. Customers will hold the retailer, not the courier, responsible so be proactive in following up problems. 

How are retailers perfoming on delivery: the stats

StellaService studied 10 of the largest UK retailers, placing orders and having returns processed over a three-month period starting last November and covering the Christmas period. 

These retailers were: 

  • Asda
  • ASOS
  • Boots
  • Currys
  • Debenhams
  • John Lewis
  • Marks & Spencer
  • Tesco
  • Very

Speed of delivery

All orders were placed using the standard delivery option and on average took 3.5 days to arrive.

Very, Argos, John Lewis and Boots all delivered in less than three days. Very was the fastest at 2.2 days on average, though it delivered the majority of packages the next day. 

The average of the bottom two performers was 5.7 days.

Cost of shipping

Shipping costs are a major cause of basket abandonment, particularly when the full charge isn’t made clear up front.

The average cost per package among these 10 retailers was £2.25.

Currys was the only retailer to offer free shipping for all packages, while Very was the most expensive at £3.95.

Shipping carriers

The retailers used a variety of couriers, the most popular being Hermes and Royal Mail. The full breakdown is:

  • myHermes – 45%
  • Royal Mail – 28%
  • Yodel – 19%
  • DPD – 4%
  • City Link – 3%
  • Parcelforce – 1%

Speed of refund 

On average refunds were processed in 7.8 days, though Boots, Very and Marks & Spencer all processed refunds in less than a week.

Boots processed refunds fastest at four days, while the average of the bottom two performers was 10 days.

Ease of returns

Returns are also hugely important for ecommerce retailers, as if the process is cheap and convenient then it will encourage repeat purchases in future.

ASOS and Boots were the only retailers to include an adhesive prepaid label in the package.