Shipping Just Gets Harder for E-tailers

Last year at the start of the holiday season, Internet retailers were scrambling andstrategizing to make sure they could delivereverything in time for holiday gift giving.

One year earlier, there had been highlypublicized debacles involving toys that arrivedafter Christmas, embarrassing public apologies tocustomers and bottom lines that cracked under thepressure.

This year, we don’t hear as much about fulfillmentand timely deliveries as we do about consumer fearsabout whether it is safe to have packages deliveredto their homes.

Every new report of Anthrax in post offices bringsheightened awareness of the new threat facingconsumers and e-tailers.

Sunny Side Down

September 11th brought new challenges fore-commerce. War, national grief, layoffs andwidespread downsizing put a serious dent in consumerism.

Recession equals decreased spending. But no onecould have foreseen tainted mail, the death ofinnocent postal and health-care workers, and the closing of federal buildings.

Most merchants are carrying on as usual. JC Penney (NYSE: JCP) reports it has no plans to alter its shippingprocedures. That sentiment is echoed by Lands’ End (NYSE: LE) and Target (NYSE: TGT).

Left Behind

Target and, however, appear to be trying to boost Web site sales with limited free-shipping promotions.

A study released by Jupiter Media Metrix found 63 percent of Internet shoppers cited high shipping charges as a deterrent in online buying.

Is the deck stacked against e-tailers? Fears ofmystery-powdered packages, plus an increasingly price-conscious constituency, could combine to make this a mediocre holiday shopping season, at best.

If the Shoe Fits

Then there is the issue that an e-tailer is only asgood as its last sale.

Take my recent shoe purchase, for example. I boughtshoes from a well-known shoe e-tailer that I havefrequented for a couple of years. They sent the wrong size. I sent it back. They claimed they never received it. We’re still battling.

Our battle is confined to e-mail because mytelephone conversations with their customer servicecenter became too frustrating.

More than 60 days have passed, with the companystill claiming it never received the returned shoes. Unfortunately, they have a 60-day return policy, clearly stated on the Web site. It appears I’m out about US$100.

While I’m quite ready to give up, considerthe same situation if I had been a novice online shopper.Chances are, I might have given up on Internet buying.

Grand Central Station

Too bad I don’t live in London.

A British company, Collectpoint, came up with a planfor consumers who make purchases online to pick uptheir goods at local convenience stores.

That solves a host of problems. First, no moredelivery attempts with nobody home. Second, it putsthe customer more in control of retrieving an order. And third, it further blends the brick-and-mortar and online worlds.

As for how efficient the system will be, thatremains to be seen. I, for one, would appreciatethe opportunity to stop by a convenience store on myway home from work to pick up my order.

Measure by Measure

Compounding the shipping dilemma is the fact thatevery e-tailer comes up with its own criteria for shipping charges.

Nothing has become standard. Some charge by weight,while others charge according the type ofmerchandise is being bought.

Still others, such asLands’ End, determine shipping charges based on whatthe customer spends. CDNow charges $3 for the firstitem, and $1 for each additional item.

From the online shopper’s perspective, it appears e-commercedoesn’t have its shipping act together, on a number of levels.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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