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The final mile

September 13, 2013

As e-commerce continues to grow, the need to manage customer expectations for parcel delivery becomes more important than ever. What are these expectations and how can they be met? Network Research’s Giles Shapley explains


Online retailing now accounts for 80% of all parcels received in the UK, with the average household receiving 3.5 parcels every month. This equates to just over one billion parcels being delivered across the UK every year, according to research conducted by UK-based customer experience research specialists Network Research. This is big business for postal operators – the total UK express parcels market is currently worth £5.8bn a year.

Our reliance on online shopping has continued to grow on the back of greater choice, convenience, and the ability to compare prices and therefore extract greater value for money. Understanding the final stage in these parcel journeys is crucial to keeping customers happy.

In a study of nearly 1,000 UK residents carried out by Network Research between January and April 2013, just over half had received a parcel in the past month. Those who talked positively about their experiences mentioned reliability, timeliness of arrivals, good service and meeting their needs, as key factors in a satisfactory delivery process, all of which can be used as measures to drive positive customer experience and engagement.

In addition to these factors, the research also found that customers look for good communication on how the parcel is progressing through the network. Most people work during the day, and receiving up to date information on when the delivery is expected reduces the number of missed deliveries and therefore increases customer satisfaction. This has a knock-on effect, as 76% of the sample in the study could recall who had delivered their last parcel when they received good service, with around 65% of respondents typically giving the carrier of their last parcel a score of extremely or very satisfied. Positive customer feedback is always good for business and those receiving a good service are likely to return.

It is also important for carriers to understand what constitutes bad service, to rectify and improve their offer. The respondents in Network Research’s study who were unsatisfied complained about lateness of arrivals, deliveries to the wrong address and poor communication. Inflexible or non-specific delivery times were also among the complaints received. Another response was: “I received a note saying that I had received a parcel and it had been put in a safe location. This was a bush in the garden.”

Fortunately, these bad experiences are few and far between, with over 95% of parcels arriving on time and in a good condition, but who is to blame when it goes wrong? Is it the merchant or the carrier? Sometimes it can be difficult to determine where the blame lies. For example, one case identified in the research was of a fancy dress costume ordered from an online retailer. The merchant’s website clearly stated that its carrier delivered 99.9% of parcels on time and yet in this case the item was late. Was the merchant to blame by not having the product in stock when it was ordered or did the carrier genuinely fail to meet its obligations? Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell, but the customer was not made aware of the late delivery and was therefore unsatisfied by the service – once again highlighting the importance of good customer communication.

And it is not just communication between the carrier and the customer that must be improved; forging the best partnership between the retailer and the delivery agent is also key to good service. Customers who receive an item late or in bad condition may ultimately take their purchases elsewhere next time, with knock-on effects for both providers.

Another way to improve communication is through the use of new technology. Enabling customers to track their parcels increases customer satisfaction, with Network Research’s study showing that those customers who have this option gave much higher satisfaction scores than those who didn’t. With the advent of new technology, some carriers are actively telling customers when they can expect to receive their parcels and this is delivering positive feedback.

The final stage of the journey is the most critical for the customer, so providing a number of delivery options in the case of the recipient being unavailable is important. According to the research, customers who were unable to receive the parcel personally thought that leaving the package with a family member, neighbour or colleague was a satisfactory solution, whereas leaving a calling card or placing the parcel outside the premises was far less acceptable.

Overall, it appears that the majority of British households are satisfied with the delivery service they receive and have a clear understanding of the various services on offer. They expect a reliable and consistent service, and active communication is important in ensuring high levels of satisfaction. The ability to track the progress of goods is also important. Postal carriers should be aware of customers’s needs during the last-mile delivery process, as providing a poor service can have serious repercussions.

For further information on this study contact Giles Shapley, customer development director: or call +44 20 7680 5100


This article was published in the September issue of Postal Technology International magazine

September 13, 2013


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