Over the last month or so I have become somewhat an expert on the retail industry, as a customer. I have spent so much money on such a wide range of “stuff” recently that I feel as though the whole economy might have been working on my sole behalf. Some thoughts.
Buying stuff online should be the best thing ever. And yet it isn’t due, inevitably, to the distance between the retailer and the customer. I found the bath I wanted was only available on about three websites (I have a non-standard-length bathroom), two of which made it extremely hard to order the bath. So I ordered a whole stack of the stuff I needed from the third site for convenience. It was a disaster. They delivered my order in FOUR separate tranches. They delivered a bath tap with the wrong fittings (two left “feet”). They delivered the towel rail before they had even confirmed it had been despatched, leaving me surprised to receive a call from the delivery driver from my doorstep while I was at work, and him then forging a delivery confirmation. The bath in the end wasn’t even precisely the size that was advertised. I ordered the wrong size of basin and the wrong sort of radiator valves and while, of course, this was my own stupid fault, a regular shop would have taken them back no problem. I couldn’t send back the badly-packed bath taps in time for the plumber to fit them, so I had to buy new feet. On one level I am extremely pleased that the online world makes more products available at better prices, but any savings I might have achieved were mitigated by the fact that I couldn’t go an sabre-rattle at a real customer-service person nor take any of the wrong stuff back. Never use QS Supplies, of Leicester.
On the other hand, Wickes delivered exactly what I wanted, when I asked for it at about half the price of the same product in their own retail store. It cost a whole £5 to get 600kg of tiles delivered on a Saturday. Very impressive.
And what of John Lewis? I am pretty pleased with the products they supplied (a budget bed frame and budget mattress) but their delivery service has underwhelmed. It was extremely useful to be able to pay £20 to get an evening time slot. This is the kind of service I am willing to over-pay for. I can’t easily take a morning off and “work from home”, so evening and weekend deliveries are “for the win”, as they say. However the first time the mattress turned up it arrived damaged. The delivery guys said it was depressingly common and that they had been raising the issue with the supplier for yonks. But the delivery guys turned up at 10pm for a 7-9pm slot the first time, and then at quarter past six for the same slot a week later. I don’t know which is worse, but it’s not very useful either way. But again, the products are more suited to my needs and significantly cheaper than from the obvious alternative shops such as Dreams. John Lewis even beat Tesco.
And then there are the retailers of small, letterbox-sized items. Gone are the days, apparently, when it was perfectly OK to stuff stuff through the letterbox or leave it at the sorting office. Don’t get me started on Hermes again. But even big names like TNT don’t make it easy. My mum’s Nexus is hopefully at my next-door neighbour’s flat, otherwise it’s a trip to Croydon*^. There may be light at the end of the tunnel. Apparently there are moves towards having small items delivered to your local convenience store. If this becomes mainstream I will be extremely happy. Maybe Tesco could set something up with Amazon?
So do I want the economy to go back to its pre-1999 retail model? Absolutely not. Do I want someone to set up a delivery network that doesn’t require people to be at home during the day for small stuff and a lot more flexibility for big stuff? Yes, yes I do. If I had enough capital and know-how I’d already have done it. I think there’s something of a market failure at present. I would be prepared to pay for things to be delivered at a time and place convenient to me. I doubt I am alone. Yet online retailers seem to compete purely on price and never on convenience. I look forward to that changing.
* update: Croydon it is.
^ update 20.25: IT’S ARRIVED!