When e-commerce fails at the front door, retail brand damage ensues

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan February 15, 2016
Summary:
The e-commerce revolution is about more than an omni-channel interface. You've got to employ courier firms who aren't going to poison your brand.

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It’s always the last ten yards where the real problems lie.

I’ve just had three encounters with courier firms used by e-commerce vendors that variously demonstrate the problems - and the brand damage - that can result if vendors don’t manage the firms that are going to be carrying the product from the van to the front door.

Brutal lesson - you can have the snazziest, most sophisticated e-commerce site in the world, but if the courier company are perceived by the customers as a**holes, then so are you by extension.

Case number 1 - Amazon and the cable tidy bin

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I ordered a cable tidy bin from Amazon to try to conceal the spaghetti hairball of cabling that drapes down from my desk. As ever with Amazon, the ordering process was simple, quick and completed satisfactorily on my iPhone. Delivery was the next day.

I was due to be in all day anyway, but was somewhat startled when my neighbour in our block knocked on the door, carrying my package which he had found on the street outside the building. It had been simply dumped there. No-one from the courier firm had attempted to ring up and it was just by happy chance that my neighbour found it before someone made off with it.

Furious, I lodged an online complaint with Amazon, emphasising that I had been in all day, that no attempt had been made to deliver the package to me and that my neighbour had only found it by chance where it had been abandoned. A day later I got a reply that was in somewhat broken English. What Amazon said in response to my complaint:

Thank you for contacting us.

From your email received, I'm sorry to learn that you're not satisfied with the service from Amazon Logistics.

I also understand that the carrier left the parcel with your neighbour and didn't make attempt to ring the door bell.

Please be informed, as an on-line retailer and we're totally depended on our carriers in order to fulfill our customers orders and realise that any negative incident such as this reflects badly on us.

To escalate the issue, I have contacted the relevant team and asked them to investigate the issue regarding the incorrect delivery attempt. Be assured that we will look into the issue and proper action will be taken for the same.

Please be assured that you will also receive a response in this regards within 24 to 48 hours from the concern department….

Rest assured that I have also brought this to the attention of the appropriate department within Amazon.co.uk for consideration. Each suggestion and complain will be read and taken into consideration by our business team.

This reply has several problems:

  • Firstly the courier did not leave the parcel with a neighbour - the neighbour stumbled across it by accident. I did note afterwards however that Amazon sent me a notification to my phone saying that it had been "handed to resident", a bare-faced lie.
  • Secondly, I am still waiting 12 days later for any response from the mysterious ‘concern department’, who don’t seem that concerned I have to say.
  • Thirdly, while I’m encouraged that each ‘complain’ is read and taken into consideration by Amazon, that doesn’t address the fact that the courier abandoned my package on the street and all that’s been expressed here is some basic platitudes.

Case number 2 - Argos and the different chair

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I ordered a desk chair from Argos, charcoal gray with dark wooden legs. I completed the transaction, expecting to then be taken to a delivery slot selection. I sort of was. My slot was 7am - 8pm.

Now, colour me over-demanding, but in an age when the likes of Ocado can deliver my groceries within a one hour window and Amazon - even given the above disaster - will soon be delivering stuff before you even order it, that’s less of a time slot, more of an entire day. That’s really completely unacceptable in this day and age and if Argos wants to be a serious e-commerce player, that’s got to change.

I couldn’t wait in on Tuesday all day so I needed to change the delivery to Wednesday. With no facility to do this online, I had to call Argos. Calling the customer services line was a big mistake - a 50 minute wait to have my call answered was the message. I tried the online chat, but got an error message saying there was no-one who could help me at the moment.

Eventually, an hour after trying to communicate with anyone, someone appeared in the chat window. I explained the problem to Lynda and she replied as follows:

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Indeed, not even empathize or display the slightest indication that you had an iota of sympathy for the situation.

I was tempted to cancel on the spot, but as I was working from home on Wednesday, I bedded down to wait.

Come delivery day, I received a text from the courier firm, Yodel, to whom Argos outsources deliveries for reasons that defy any logic or common sense. I was pleasantly surprised, not having expected an update on delivery.

I should have known better. Rather than narrowing down the time slot, the text was letting me know that my chair would now be delivered by 9pm, not 8pm as promised.

To add insult to injury, when it eventually did turn up, I opened up the box and the chair inside was completely different to the one on the web site. Charcoal gray was steel gray and the dark wood legs were pale wood. It couldn’t have been more wrong. So I took to the phone the next morning to get it returned and to score a refund.

This time I got through to someone human, who was actually sympathetic, apologising for the problem and adding that Argos is soon to dump Yodel - not before time! - and replace with its own logistics operation. Meanwhile she organized for the couriers to come back and pick up the chair and booked me a time slot - between 7am and 8pm. Aaaaaaaargh!!!

Case number 3 - Argos (again) and a bread maker.

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Our bread maker gave up the ghost. In terms of First World Problems, this is not good. Having done a scout around of various retailers in the area, with grim inevitability, Argos turned out to have the best option and, according to the website, had the item in store. Resigning myself to collecting it, I looked out of the window and saw it was tipping down with rain. Then I noticed that the bread maker, unlike the chair above, could be ordered Fast Track - which would mean it would be delivered that day.

As much as an experiment as anything else, I decided to give it a go. I wasn’t going to be going out in the rain, so what was there to lose, other than my sanity? I paid the minimal free - £3 or so - for Fast Track and sat back waiting to be disappointed.

But you know what, Argos turned up trumps.

The order was processed at 10.50am. I received confirmation by text message at 10.52am, with a  delivery slot of between 2pm and 6pm.

Come 1.20pm, another text arrives. Here we go, I sigh, excuses, delays, non-delivery - which will it be. In fact, it was text narrowing the delivery window to between 2pm and 3.33pm (very precise!). Ok, I thought, that’s good.

I took the dog out for a walk at 1.30 (leaving someone in the house to answer the door just in case). Come 1.59, I get a call from a delivery man who’s outside the door, asking where I am? As it happens, the door is being answered to let him in as he speaks to me on the phone, but the essential point is, he didn’t just give up and run away. He took the trouble to call me and politely ask where I was.

And the bread maker works as well.

My take

It really is all about the customer experience for the last 10 yards - but that’s where so many retailers abdicate their brand to third parties who let them - and the customer - down. 

Amazon failed me badly on this occasion. As it stands, my longer term experience with the firm is such that my loyalty will survive this incident, but I remain irritated at the shabby customer service response that failed directly to address my complaint and sought to fob me off with a few platitudes.

Argos involvement with Yodel poisons any attempt to achieve competitive e-commerce credibility for the high street catalog firm. Get rid, get rid now. After last month’s expose by TV show Dispatches, how any retailer dare risk their own brand being contaminated by this shower is beyond me.  (And yes, I’m aware that Yodel also deliver for Amazon. I don’t know if the parcel abandoned in the street is retailed to that or not. If Amazon’s ‘concern department’ would get back to me, I might find out!)

After an earlier bad experience with a piece of household equipment, my conclusion is simple - I wouldn’t trust the firm to deliver anything large or bulky, like a dishwasher or a chair. If you keep it simple, like a kitchen appliance, the Fast Track service is remarkably good.

But that ten yards between the delivery van needs to be top priority for e-commerce retailers - and right now, it isn't in all too many cases.

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