Online groceries: what is the point of hourly delivery slots?

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Gareth Williams is Head of SME Business at MetaPack, and has previously worked as an ecommerce manager, a poet and a university lecturer. Today he talks about his experience of supermarket deliveries and broken promises:

In my day job, I work with e-retailers to solve their online delivery challenges, while in my own time I am an avid online consumer. As a generally busy person (in my professional as well as my family life) my natural inclination is to look online for purchases before dragging myself off to a real-life shop. This pattern extends to my weekly grocery routine, and it is specifically my grocery shopping experience of the last few weeks that I would like to share with you.

Tesco Sainsburys Home DeliveryAs a bit of background, I have been using Tesco’s online service for about seven years; until a particularly bad experience last November motivated me try Sainsbury’s, which I’ve been using up to this date – thus giving me a chance to compare the offerings.

Having become well-used to Tesco’s two-hour delivery slots, I was encouraged that Sainsbury’s main differentiator (at the time) was one hour slots. However, every single week since switching to Sainsbury’s I have had a phone call from the designated driver asking me if I was happy to accept the shopping early – apart from one week when they phoned to say they’d be late.

This prompts the question: Can Sainsbury’s really claim to offer one hour slots when they seem incapable of delivering within any given slot? Busy people, by definition, are the main consumers of timed deliveries; and I know from my professional work that, for this group of people, too early is just as bad as too late.

Fortuitously, this weekend has handed me a great opportunity to move the question on a bit: on Saturday (don’t ask why) I placed grocery orders with both Tesco and Sainsbury’s – and I was ecstatic to find that Tesco also now offer one hour slots. Because I imagined it might make things interesting, I selected the same hourly slot from both stores – Sunday 2-3pm. Perfect timing, I calculated, after I had returned from a planned family lunch at the local pub.

Whilst still at the pub (at 12:50pm) I took a call from the Tesco driver. He was parked outside my house. Could he deliver early – he was happy to wait around till I got home? Fine I said. But I didn’t plan on hurrying home on his account. Then at 1:05pm I took a call from the Sainsbury’s driver. Could he deliver early? Yes I said. I’d be about 20 minutes.

And when I got home, there they both were, waiting for me outside my front gate. All my shopping was put away well before the 2-3pm slot I had booked – which was good in one way, but it would have been nice to have got my coat off and sorted out the kids before having to do it.

So what conclusion can possibly be drawn from all this? That hourly slots are an illusion. They don’t exist. The stores probably don’t have the ability to be so accurate, and yet the online grocery giants insist on offering these impossible-to-meet times.

It seems obvious to me that meeting your delivery promise is incredibly important in ecommerce, and yet two of the UK’s largest online success stories appear to have lost sight of this.

4 Responses

  1. I think this is more to do with the local store. Our Tescos drivers tell us they are no longer allowed to call to request early delivery, and more to the point, except on the very rare occasion when there has been a vehicle breakdown or the van has been caught by road closure due to accidents they don’t fail. In any case, when there has been a problem they call us and ask if we wish to reschedule or take late delivery. We are talking no more than once a year here as well.

    On the trial we did with Waitrose to use a voucher they hit their 1 hour slot perfectly.

    Overall home delivery has saved us so many hours shopping, parking etc the very occasional glitch is really nothing.

  2. It would make sense to offer 1-hour slots as a premium service, with regular (cheaper) slots being wider (2-4 hours). Provided the majority of deliveries are within the wide slots then 1-hour deliveries can be slotted in around them.

    In terms of staff/fuel costs it is a lot cheaper to have wide delivery times as this will avoid backtracking on the route.

  3. Martin – you’re right: this is far from scientific. Also, very interested in your comment that Tesco (just your store presumably) have banned early requests.
    Mark – great idea.

  4. I don’t have any problems at all with having a 1 hour delivery slot. I often time it for before I am wanting to do something else, or after I am due in from somewhere. So, I like it just fine as it helps me plan around it. Darned site better than waiting in for a courier or a workman who expects you to wait around all day and then doesn’t turn up.

    If they phone to ask if they can come early it is usually OK, but if I say that’s not convenient they are fine and come later.
    My main concern is usually that I don’t want it any later than the end of the slot.
    How close they are to the booked time often depends on day/time. Quite often I get the delivery at 1 minute past the start of the slot.

    I stopped using Tesco after they twice cancelled my delivery completely and only bothered to let me know 5 mins before the end of my delivery slot!
    The last time was an 8-9pm slot on a Friday night and I was left with no shopping for the weekend – except Sainsbury’s managed to offer me a slot on Saturday!

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