A view from the Valley

An analysis of trends over the past five years by Snow Valley, especially for Post&Parcel. On January 20, Snow Valley will be launching the 2010 edition of its Online Retail Delivery in the UK Report. In the meantime, Snow Valley summarises five key trends it has noted over the past five years:

1. More flexibility

Back in 2005, 48% of the retailers we tested gave us absolutely no choice about when the delivery would arrive. The customer was offered a fixed charge and a fixed timeframe and it was a case of ‘take it or leave it’.

This year, 64% of the retailers could offer at least two options. Admittedly, this means that 36% of retailers still don’t offer any flexibility. But the trend clearly shows that retailers are moving away from the one size fits all approach.

2. Take-up of Saturday, specified date, and specified time services has been slow

Although we’re definitely seeing an increase in online retail delivery flexibility, the take-up of services such as Saturday delivery or delivery on a specific date is happening quite slowly.

  • In 2005, 23% of the retailers offered Saturday delivery – by 2009 this had only reached 26%
  • 15% supported delivery at a specific time of day this year, compared to 14% in 2005
  • 15% of retailers could deliver at a specified time of day in 2009, compared to 15%

This is partly down to the way the research has changed – in 2005 we looked at 100 retailers, compared to 166 in 2009. However, compared to other trends where the patterns have been pronounced, this shows that these services remain less than common than you would expect.

3. Larger retailers offer more delivery options

30 of the retailers in our research appeared on the August 2009 Hitwise Top 50 Shops List. When you look at those 30 sites in isolation you see a different picture:

  • 76% had at least two options, compared to 64% of retailers generally
  • 53% had Saturday delivery, compared to 26% generally
  • 37% had specific time of day delivery, compared to 15% generally
  • 50% had specific date delivery, compared to 15% generally

This might seem like a no-brainer – you’d expect larger retailers to have more bargaining power with carriers and more of a brand reputation to protect. But it isn’t – larger retailers are less likely to offer international delivery, for example, and much less likely to have online order tracking. But when it comes to offering flexibility on delivery options, larger retailers lead the way.

4. Online order tracking has increased

By far the most dramatic trend that we’ve seen over the past five years has been the growth of online order tracking. In 2005, only 59% of retailers allowed the customer to log in to their account on the website and check the status of their orders. In 2009 this had risen to 84%.  And more and more retailers are offering a link to the carrier’s website, although it must be said with varying degrees of success.

5. Text messaging not increasing

And lastly – the trend that we keep expecting to see but it never materialises: the use of SMS messaging to inform a customer about the status of their orders. In 2008, our research told us that only 5 retailers had sent us a text message, either to confirm the order or to confirm despatch. We were inundated with queries from carriers and retailers, suggesting that this was way too low. But not only were we right, nothing had changed in the intervening 12 months: in total we received text messages from just 5 retailers – a measly 4% of orders.

Online Retail Delivery in the UK Report

Snow Valley will be launching the 2010 edition of our Online Retail Delivery in the UK Report on 20 January.

To mark the occasion (the report is now in its fifth year and everyone deserves a birthday party when they reach five) we are holding a launch event. At that event, we will present the inaugural Golden Chariot award to the retailer that achieved the very best delivery service, in terms of speed, value for money, and flexibility – more information is here: www.snowvalley.com/golden-chariot

The reason for the award is simple. Every year we place orders on 100+ online stores and we always see examples of fantastic customer service and best practice at work. The report, however, very rarely names names. This year, by singling out the retailer that performed the very best, we can highlight what a truly top class delivery service looks like and share that with the industry.

The 70-page report covers a much greater scope, looking at charges, communication, flexibility, and performance, with sector breakdowns to help retailers evaluate their own services. To request an e-mail on publication date, please visit www.snowvalley.com

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