Whilst there is no substitute for a decent bricks and mortar outdoor shop and even for the more boutique shops like the Patagonia Store in Hathersage, the simple truth is that year on year more of you have been buying outdoor stuff over the net. The problem is we have had it easy, up to now there has been a simple way of doing things. Small cheap items got sent in the post, and bigger more expensive items got delivered by a courier.
However over the last two weeks we have seen a dramatic decrease in peoples confidence in the Royal Mail delivering, which seems more than anything to be based on media hype in all but a few regions. This now means the industry has to look hard, to how we get orders to you, how we charge for them and most importantly we have to gain and understanding of what you expect. What I'm suggesting is that companies like ourselves will no longer be able to use Royal Mail, so in order for all your favorite stores to make informed decisions then we need to know what our customers think.
At the moment the Royal Mail provides a unique service as it delivers for a flat fee over the entire UK. So if we deliver a 2 kg Sleeping bag, it costs us £4.56 and we send that to you pretty much next day no matter where you live in the UK. All commercial couriers with no legal obligation of the Universal Delivery Service will charge more for remote geographical regions. These include Scottish Highlands and Islands, Northern Island, Isle of Man. So do we charge more in accordance to where you live or would you prefer for us to even things out.
At the moment no one comes close to the Royal Mail in being able to send small cheap items cost effectively. In order to sell a small item under £5 it has to be sent Royal Mail. If we sent a small headtorch using a courier then this could add up to £3.50 in extra cost, for nothing more than getting it guaranteed next day. Is this a cost worth paying? The alternative is to have minimum order values which seems like a draconian thing to do in this age of choice.
In the old days you had to wait up to 28days for delivery, now most people expect things next day. Do we actually need this? Is this just a sad reflection of our impatience or our forgetfulness. Do we actually need the items processed immediately, or do we just remember the day before we go to trek up Kilimanjaro that we need a sleeping bag? Would you prefer to pay less for a slower service, or do we just accept that next day is now the accepted norm?
The biggest problem with couriers is the moment you nip to get some milk, they come round the corner and post a "we tried to deliver card" through the door. There are no easy answers to this, timed services are expensive, many companies now impose redelivery charges if you're not in, this means that when you place an order the customer has to bear some responsibility to understand how the item will be delivered and make the appropriate plans. We get many calls from people who were not in, and sometimes it is simply their fault, in some cases couriers charge a re-delivery charge so this can cost someone up to £15. Who should pay this, when it goes wrong?
Over the last few years there has started to be a few innovative initiates, like Collect + and Pay Point who use local collection points rather a specified address. It's not impossible to see the likes of Tesco and Ocado delivering items other than their own. Is it just that we have to change the way things are. Bigger letter boxes, local outside courier boxes, companies having to except that employees will get items delivered to work. It may even be that we have to buy a transmogrifieing duplicator to receive goods.
For many online retailers this is a time we have to make some tough decisions, worse still, we have to make them pretty quickly. We have been faced with a 25% drop in customers, and thats a genuinely sensitive commercial snippet of information, which hopefully show the gravity of the situation many mail order companies are facing.
I'm hoping this will stimulate some debate that will help your favourite online stores, deliver what you want, when you want it.
Nick Smith of Alpkit