Home delivery is weakest link in Internet chain

Your systems have been tested and are ready to roll. The only missing link is the home delivery service but, as the UK has a long-standing mail order tradition and a plethora of carriers, this is going to be a doddle, isn’t it?

Imagine the scenario. You have put together a bullet-proof business plan, beaten the competition to the venture capitalists and secured sufficient funding. You have a team of experts who have built a state-of-the art website, using the latest technology.

And since analysts cite fulfilment as the dot-com’s Achilles heel, you have built your own operations centre from scratch to cater for the demands of e-commerce. This includes the ability to store and select from over 10,000 different items, 24/7 operations and full integration between your website, fulfilment and customer-care centres.

Your systems have been tested and are ready to roll. The only missing link is the home delivery service but, as the UK has a long-standing mail order tradition and a plethora of carriers, this is going to be a doddle, isn’t it?

Far from it. The resources available are woefully inadequate. Forget one-to-one marketing, customised services and the rest. The Internet revolution has to start on the ground with home delivery. Right now, evening, weekend or time-specified deliveries are all but an unaffordable dream. Ironically, the home-delivery industry stands to benefit most from the Net revolution, but it has yet to grasp a vast market opportunity.

It offers delivery anywhere in the UK next working day, from nine to five, but what about delivering to the consumer at work? How does this stack up against one-to-one marketing? When we at VitaGO looked at home delivery in the UK for our health and beauty products, we were dismayed by the lack of options. We spoke to over 15 carriers. Most of these did not offer deliveries in the evening, let alone at weekends. Those who did, offered punitive terms. It prompts the question: why are vans that are used for daytime deliveries not also used at night, rather than remaining idle? Evening or weekend deliveries would be more cost-effective as traffic eases and consumers are actually at home to receive their goods (the enormous cost of failed deliveries is a well-kept secret in the industry).

Some companies have seen the opportunity and are looking into developing such services. Other business sectors are considering using their own fleets. Who knows, tomorrow, your latest online order might even be delivered by the milkman. Forget Net time, home delivery looks poised to remain the weakest link in your fulfilment chain for a while yet.

Bernard Frazer is managing director at European health and beauty website VitaGO UK

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