E-tailers must deliver in real time

This Christmas will have seen many people’s first experience of online Christmas shopping. I would expect what I found to be typical, though I believe the problems I encountered are more deep-rooted in the general malaise of UK retailing and its ignorance of what e-commerce means.

Like many, I leave Christmas shopping till late – usually the last week. With the rise of out-of-town shopping centres, Sunday opening times and an alleged downturn in the fortunes of the retail sector, I had no fears of finding what I needed. Imagine my surprise and distaste at finding shops closing at 5.30pm or at best 6.00pm in the final few shopping days before Christmas. Unbelievable.

Not to worry, I’d shop online. To my horror, I found most sites claiming “last order for Christmas: December 8” or something similar.

When are retailers going to realise that the marketing tool of the late Nineties and the new century is accessibility – you have to be there when the customer wants you. For brick-and-mortar retailers, this is the only way you will compete against e-tailers – when they get their act together.

But worst of all, when are e-tailers going to realise that e-commerce is not just another route to market? It is a whole new culture. If a customer contacts you online, you have to respond in real time – whether it be a query, a request for information or a purchase. The number of organisations which treat such enquiries in the same way they do letters – with ten-day turnaround standards or worse – are dead. And as for sales – if you can’t offer a 24-hour turnaround (into the customer’s hands) at any time of the year, you are tomorrow’s dinosaurs.

Simon Carter



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