Saturday 17th Nov 2018 - Logistics & Supply Chain

Online, off track

We’ve all witnessed the wondrous growth of internet shopping. In the UK, online shopping will shortly break through the £100bn barrier and nearly every bricks and mortar company has added an internet outlet. So, a great success story, obviously giving consumers a better way of shopping.

Or not. The truth is that internet shopping for non-letterbox products as opposed to services is still a far from perfect experience. The process can be poor in all areas. The website may not help a customer quickly locate a specific product. There is no apparent consensus on product categories or even product descriptions in the computer products etail sector.

When you have found the desired item, is it in stock? Well, some have a real time stock display, others update some hours late, others don’t bother to tell you they are out of stock. I no longer trust what it says on a website, I ring up and for new, keenly priced items I often hear the admission that the company doesn’t have any stock, but they will have a delivery ‘shortly’. Press further and they will make no commitment.

A certain global dot com quotes lead times. When you have ordered, these can move from days to months without explanation. The worst take your money when you order and deliver weeks later.

Well if it’s your lucky day and there is stock, how long will it take to get delivery? The website may charge you an outrageous price for next-day delivery or there may be a free delivery option. Standard delivery lead times may be firm or have several days’ flexibility. Whether it’s a pack of socks or an LCD TV, the exact date of delivery may be unknown.

Ah, you say, but there’s online tracking or the promise of a call to confirm the day and time of delivery in advance. Some are general (‘It was collected yesterday’) or do not occur at all (there’s an unexpected truck outside).

Even worse, what about non-delivery? If the email says the item was dispatched a week ago, has it gone astray? What can you do? Always pay on credit cards as etailers can go bust.

But if you really want an item, you will put up with this and take a day off work. What about house boxes? What about deliveries to collection points? What about deliveries at work? If available, some of these options may work for some products. Others do not.

If when you’ve got a product it doesn’t work, how difficult is it to get it replaced or get your money back? It varies from being easy to nearly impossible.

Ye gods, bricks and mortar retailers must be dreadful.

The supply chains of etailers exist as a series of disconnected islands. Market growth and profit has led to a focus on automation and cost reduction, further reducing customer satisfaction.

Etailers are selling variety and low price. How well could they do if they looked after customers? The tools to improve service exist. A joined-up supply chain from manufacturer to end customer providing product availability information can be created. It will inform the customer of delays and give good estimates of new timings. It can provide delivery tracking, scheduling and communication between customer and delivery company. It will add a bit of cost but cut hassle tremendously. This could be the route to market leadership.

Frank Rietz is business development director at WBS Consulting

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