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Next Day Delivery - Can Small Businesses Offer a Better Way?

26/03/2022




Every day, thousands of us across the UK will click the button ‘Buy Now’ and expect to receive our purchase delivered to our door the following day.  For so many UK consumers, it’s become the norm when shopping online and it feels so effortless.  But that ease for each customer is only made possible by a huge amount of effort from others, such as hardworking warehouse staff and, in many cases, that effort comes at painful personal cost.  This is portrayed very clearly in the recent BBC3 drama ‘Life and Death in the Warehouse’.

To be honest, I was a bit nervous when I sat down to watch this programme on BBC iPlayer.  I’d already read the reviews and knew that it was going to be eye-opening, even shocking, and that there were some distressing scenes.  However, I am so glad I did take the time to watch this hard-hitting drama.  Based on true stories, it clearly shows the significant human cost of the ‘next day delivery’ shopping revolution.  Don’t just take my word for it, here are the glowing reviews from The Guardian and The Daily Mail.  If you haven’t yet seen the programme then reading these reviews will give you a quick insight to what it’s all about.

THE ‘NEXT DAY DELIVERY’ PHENOMENON

As a nation, we’ve got used to the idea of ‘next day delivery’ as normal and something we can expect as consumers.  And I don’t have to mention a specific name for you to know the huge global marketplace that is best known for this and which, you could argue, has turned ‘next day delivery’ into a standard expectation.  

So, what is the answer to the concerning issues highlighted in the ‘Life and Death in the Warehouse’ drama? Is it to just stop offering such a quick turnaround for orders? To go back to how things were before this speed became so commonplace? Our greed as consumers has fuelled this luxury- should we forfeit it now?

Well, these questions are based on the idea that speedy online shopping is only available when you buy from the corporate giants.  And that in itself is a misconception which can hide a better, more sustainable answer.

THE ALTERNATIVE ‘NEXT DAY DELIVERY’ EXPERIENCE

There is a widespread misunderstanding that if customers choose to shop from Small Businesses online, they will have to wait longer for their purchase to arrive.  It is important to note that this is not always true.  More often than you would imagine, Small Businesses can dispatch orders very promptly and give their customers ‘next day delivery’ or occasionally even ‘same day delivery’!  I run Shopitnear, an online marketplace for UK Small Businesses, and I have seen this for myself.

Let me give you an example.  I used the Shopitnear marketplace to buy some cheese from a Small Business called Cambridge Artisan Cheese.  I placed the order at about 9pm one Friday evening and the very next morning, just before lunch, there was a knock on my door and there was one of the owners of Cambridge Artisan Cheese, handing my order over to me.  Amazing service, less than 24 hours from order to receipt!

And you know, I was surprised!  I was not expecting such a quick and personal delivery!  And, like any ‘pleasant surprise’, a lot of the pleasure came from the fact that it was unexpected.

SO, CAN SMALL BUSINESSES COMPETE WITH ‘NEXT DAY DELIVERY?’

In short, the answer will be ‘sometimes yes’.  But not ALL the time.  If you are ordering a personally engraved item, can you really expect it to be produced, dispatched and delivered within 24-48 hours? No.  

But there are plenty of times when a Small Business can give you that ‘next day delivery’ service which you’re used to from the large corporations.  That may be by hand delivering themselves or by using a next day courier or even just sending your item by Royal Mail First Class on the day you order!  

However, I do believe that as a nation of consumers, we need to adjust our expectations so that this ‘next day delivery’ is generally a pleasant surprise, not something we expect as standard.  

CHANGING THE EXPECTATION AROUND ‘NEXT DAY DELIVERY’ 

In the example I gave earlier about my next day cheese delivery, the reason I was surprised at such a prompt delivery was that when I placed the order on Shopitnear, the expected delivery timescale was given as 1-2 days.  So, there was no promise about the next day delivery, which meant the Small Business had a chance to exceed my expectations.  

There’s nothing worse than over-promising and under-delivering.   When I am speaking to Small Business owners on the phone as they are setting up on Shopitnear and I ask them about their delivery timescale, so many of them will tell me ‘’It should be with the customer in around 48 hours but I always say 2-4 days to be on the safe side’’

Life is not perfect; postal strikes happen, the courier van breaks down.  There is an understanding of this in the Small Business community and that is why many business owners take care not to over promise and under deliver.  But that doesn’t mean they rest on their laurels; no, they strive to exceed customer expectations and deliver the order even quicker than anticipated.  This is what I have seen so often with Shopitnear.

WHAT ABOUT URGENT ORDERS?

But, what about the times when you need to know you will receive an item urgently or ready for a particular date e.g., for a birthday or an occasion.  When you are shopping from Small Businesses, do you just have to press order and hope for the best?

Well, one of the beautiful things about buying from Small Businesses is that you are dealing with real people, not faceless websites.  The answer to urgent delivery, therefore, lies in reaching out to those real people.

For example, one of my friends, Lynne, was going to a birthday party on a Saturday and she hadn’t yet got a gift.  On the Wednesday evening before this, Lynne told me she’d wished she’d been more organised to order a birthday gift from Shopitnear (she is a great supporter of ours!) but time had slipped by and now she was just going to have to pop into a shop and buy something off the shelf. 

I said that if she still wanted to buy through Shopitnear, I thought it was highly likely one of our small businesses, Belle Crystals, could help at such short notice.  I knew that Karen, the owner, was always very prompt at dispatching her orders and that, all being well, she would probably be able to post an item to Lynne on the Thursday so that she would receive it on the Friday before she travelled. But, I warned Lynne, it would be best for her to message Karen either before or alongside the order to explain the situation and double check it would be possible on this occasion.  

Lynne placed an order for some earrings from Belle Crystals that Wednesday about 11pm with an accompanying message. She woke up on the Thursday to find a message from Karen confirming she would be able to dispatch the earrings that very day with first class Royal Mail.  So, Lynne received the earrings on the Friday, a beautifully packaged small parcel that slipped through her letterbox, and she gave it to her friend on the Saturday as planned.

Therefore, if you need an item urgently, the best thing to do is to get in touch with the Small Business owner directly to check and confirm it is possible.  If they don’t answer promptly, send the same message to another. I am sure that one of them will respond quickly and, if they can turn your order around within that timescale, they will make every effort to do so.  Why? Because customer service matters so much to Small Business owners.  I know this because I have spoken to so many of them and I’ve seen their responses to customer orders and enquiries.

THE PERSONAL TOUCH IS KEY

As consumers, we must remember the people behind the products.  Just like we have family emergencies, medical appointments and unexpected life events, Small Business owners do too. When there are only one or two people running a business, family or health circumstances could impact on the business activity at any given time. So, there may be times Small Business owners don’t respond to our messages the same day or get our order dispatched as quickly as they did the last time we purchased from them.  That’s why I told my friend Lynne to message Belle Crystals to check her order could be dispatched in the timescale she needed.  I didn’t want to assume that, just because I’d seen that speed from Belle Crystals several times, it would certainly be the case on that occasion. 

All of us ultimately expect a personal level of service.  We want any business we interact with (large or small) to treat us as individuals.  In return, we as consumers should remember that we are not buying from robots but from real people too.

The personal touch that you get when shopping from independent businesses is what makes 'Shopping Small' so special.  One of the things I want to achieve with Shopitnear is to give customers the ease of ordering online without losing that personal touch.  Therefore, on Shopitnear, you can message the Small Businesses directly or message the Shopitnear team directly for assistance with your shopping. 

THE WAY FORWARD 

The pace of life in this country has accelerated to a speed most of us feel uncomfortable with.  We wish life would slow down but we’re all caught in the rat race.  That’s why we’ve so easily fallen into the trap of last-minute ordering, relying on that ‘next day delivery’.  If we can change our habits and just plan ahead that little bit more, it will not only protect the people in the supply chain, it will help our own mental health.  When we feel more organised and prepared, we feel better in ourselves!

For example, you have an upcoming birthday for a family member or friend.  Set yourself a calendar reminder to purchase the gift at least a week or two beforehand.  Then you will have full choice of all that Small Businesses offer. If you are ordering a handcrafted item that you know will be made specifically for you when you order, then allow time for it to be made and to arrive safely with you.  Or, if you do leave it to just a few days before, remember that you will still find several different Small Businesses who can get a gift to you in time.   You can browse a variety of items from many different small businesses on one handy website, Shopitnear, add different options to your basket and then view the shipping timescales to choose the one that meets your need.

CHOOSE THE POSITIVE ALTERNATIVE

We must take responsibility for our shopping habits as a nation. The eye-opening ‘Life and Death in the Warehouse’ makes us stop and think about the impact of our choices- do watch it if you haven’t already!

If you want to make a difference, here are three things you can do:

1.       Allow ‘next day delivery’ to be a pleasant surprise, not something you take for granted. 

2.      Think ahead when you’re shopping, plan for future occasions and needs

3.      Find a shopping platform(s) that meets your needs and deals ethically with both customers and suppliers e.g., Small Businesses.  (If you want to know why you should consider using Shopitnear, read my blog here: ‘Shopitnear- the Alternative Marketplace You MUST Try!) 

 Let’s change our mindset and bring the humanity back to online shopping, for the good of others and ourselves.  It is certainly possible and never more so, when we work together. 


 

 By Martha Joveluro 

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