Editor's Comment

Editor’s column: promises, promises

It’s bad enough when we break our own promises, but far worse when customers are forced into breaking theirs.

Sean Fleming

Sean Fleming, editor, eDelivery.net

Chilly, isn’t it? And windy too. That’s the thing about winter, there are certain things you can rely on, like foul weather.

Something else that can be taken for granted is the incredible amount of pressure placed on delivery systems when you have a deadline like Christmas looming into view. Sure, some people get all their shopping out of the way in September and then gloat about it. But they’re in the minority – always have been, and will be increasingly. There’s a long run-up to Christmas this December, giving people more opportunities to shop.

Another pressure point has been Black Friday, which took its time crossing the Atlantic but like so many other American imports, now it’s here it’s probably here to stay. Its ramifications go much further than alarming footage of people scrapping with one another in supermarkets hoping to get a cut-price TV.

It’s unlikely anyone reading this will need convincing of the vital role played by the logistics sector when it comes to keeping the promises made to customers. But anyone in any doubt need only consider what happened to Marks & Spencer’s Castle Donington distribution centre in the wake of a four-day Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotion.

Customers flocked to the party, and the warehouse ended up with a hangover.

The Castle Donington centre, in Leicestershire, handles all fulfillment for M&S.com – so this is far from a peripheral operation. And even so, when hit by a wave of orders, the facility was left unable to process orders in line with customers’ everyday expectations.

Whether more retailers’ operations networks will start to buckle under the growing strain of Christmas orders and returns remains to be seen. Some in the industry feel it is inevitable, but surely the order will have gone out from the HQs of the UK’s biggest retail concerns … “that cannot happen here!”

How it happened, and what happens next are questions that can only be answered once the dust has settled; it’s an issue we fully expect to return to.

One thing is fairly certain though – for many, the transition to multi-channel retail is still a relatively recent thing, and it’s a journey fraught with difficulties and ripe with learning opportunities.

Most of the time, customers will cut you a bit of slack when things go wrong and – as in all walks of life – the faster you own up to a problem and take ownership of it, the more likely people are to forgive you for breaking your promise.

The thing is though, it’s one thing to brush off personal inconvenience when confronted with a genuine apology, but we all tend to be far less tolerant when it comes to our own promises being let down. Customers relying on delivery expectations when buying gifts for loved ones will feel doubly let down, and harder to win round.

Things go wrong all the time, stuff happens, people do random things – it’s the way of the world.

But a promise is a promise. Especially at this time of year.