Every quarter we run a simple test to see how well the industry's various online shopping services are performing. For those who missed our Insight feature on page 28, what we do is recruit a band of shoppers to order The Grocer 33 online.
Sounds easy, doesn't it? But in the early days of this experiment, our shoppers found it extremely difficult ­ in some cases nigh on impossible ­ to even order their groceries online. Nevertheless, we persevered.
By Easter of this year, our punters found the technology had improved massively. But sadly, most of these e-shoppers had little reason to cheer because, generally speaking, the various services were still pretty shabby when it came to delivering on time and to minimising substitutions. We tried again last week and guess what? Plus ç¡ change. The consumer-facing technology remains incredibly impressive, but retailers still cannot crack the problems surrounding fulfilment. That cannot be too much of a surprise given that picking is taking place mostly in stores, which, as regular readers know only too well, often struggle to fulfil our conventional mystery shop, never mind our online excursions.
I accept many of the fulfilment issues we spotted this week were minor niggles ­ such as loose potatoes substituted by prepacks, items missing, items being delivered that were not ordered and deliveries running minutes late. A mere bagatelle, you may argue. But, call me old fashioned if you want, I was under the impression that retail was detail. And surely that truism must apply to the online world as much as it does to the real world?
Online shoppers ­ even those who are supposedly cash-rich and time-poor ­ want value for money. And when they are paying £5 for the privilege of having somebody pick their shopping and deliver it to their door it is not unreasonable to also expect that their full list is delivered ­ with no substitutions ­ and within the time specified (let's be honest: two-hour delivery slots are pretty generous). I wonder for how much longer retailers think they will be able to get away with this?