I’m puzzled by the fishy tale that has emerged from our quarterly online shopping survey.
If you read our report on page 22, you will know that only two retailers were able to fulfil our order for salmon steaks. It’s all very curious. And I can’t think of any reason why the fish should have proved so elusive. As far as I can recall, no retailers reported a sudden upsurge in demand from BBQ-ers with a taste for the fish, or from consumers who had seen Scottish Quality Salmon’s new awareness campaign or, for that matter, from folk on some crazy new Omega-3-only diet.
As I say, it is all very curious. But while I have no idea what happened with respect to salmon last weekend, I do know that whenever we have cast our net into the sometimes murky waters of online retailing, we have always caught odd things: products past their sell-by date, comical substitutions and some truly appalling customer service issues.
To be fair, things have improved dramatically in the two years or so since we launched our online surveys. But if retailers are tempted to dismiss what we report as mere glitches - or an amusing bagatelle - in otherwise faultless systems, I would urge them to think again.
Sure, our salmon tale is quirky. But how would you feel if you had been planning a surprise dinner party for two last Saturday night to celebrate, say, your wedding anniversary and the key meal ingredient (salmon) didn’t turn up? How would that make you feel about the retailer that let you down? And as you got in your car to drive to a store to buy your salmon, with your kids in tow, grumbling about the fact they shouldn’t have to go food shopping on a Saturday, would you be tempted to teach the retailer a lesson by driving to a rival to get your fish?
In short, if you give shoppers a poor experience with your online service you are damaging your brand.
At the same time, those retailers that have got all this sussed, and can actually deliver the goods, are the ones that are able to use their online services to poach customers from rivals. Don’t forget: there are plenty of people out there who are currently reluctant to do their shopping online because of their concerns that they will not get what they have ordered.
That’s why fulfilment issues are so vital; that’s why we bang on about them as much as we do.
The net and a fishy tale