10 years on we still haven’t cracked delivery!

This week saw a tenth birthday and a new birth, the two events are both highly relevant to online retailers of all sizes up and down the country.

Internet Retailing Conference

Wednesday saw the 10th annual Internet Retailing Conference take place and at the plenary session Editor in Chief, Ian Jindall, paid tribute to Mark Pigou, the man who dreamt up the mad idea of a conference where leading retailers would not only attend but also many of whom would freely give their time to speak, sharing their successes and failures with their peers.

Ten years on and times have changed, but not quite as much as one might have expected a decade ago. It’s tough to tie down a hard figure, but no more than about 20% of retail takes place on the Internet – that leaves a massive 80% still taking place somewhere in the bits we like to refer to as “Omni-Channel”. However with changing focus, retailers are consolidating their real estate and realistically will have fewer (but probably larger) outlets in the future.

Where once innovation meant having a website, or even letting consumers buy from your website, today it’s much more about giving the consumer the choice to purchase where they want, when they want, on whatever platform they wish to transact. That’s why Peter Williams, chairman of Boohoo.com declared that the shape of the boardroom needs to change. Where once experience which generally comes with age was key, you now need a board level digital person who really gets digital. That poses a generational problem because it’s going to be a relative youngster, but retailers need someone that’s grown up as a teenager immersed in the digital age to truly understand what today’s consumer wants.

eDelivery Conference

And what today’s consumer wants is what’s driven the birth of Internet Retailing’s sister Conference – eDelivery which took place for the first time this year.

We’ve started to solve many of the issues of getting product sold online but the fulfilment side remains tricky and eDelivery aims to share the same success and failure stories that Internet Retailing has been doing for the past decade.

It’s easy to look at some retailers and think they’re a bit fusty and still stuck in the last century, but it takes a multi-year effort to change the direction of a 100 year old behemoth. The same challenges are reflected in the delivery industry as we watch our national postal carrier Royal Mail modernise, to the extent that from tomorrow every single business parcel can carry a unique bar code for the first time.

It’s not just Royal Mail however, most couriers were set up to transport goods for businesses and to deliver during office hours. Today’s consumer demands a much more sophisticated delivery from telling the retailer their home address and suddenly on the day of delivery demanding to change the destination to a neighbours address, a locker, a parcel shop or a safe place, or even back to the retailers store for collection… and all on the fly and expecting it to be seamless. Consumers expect deliveries to fit in with their demands, not the retailers convenience.

Dan and I met a ton of old friends at the two conferences and a host of new businesses with a bewildering array of innovative solutions and services. If you thought the retail and delivery side was complex, it’s likely to get a whole lot harder but with new solutions in some ways at the same time surprisingly easy.

What have I forgotten to mention? International! There were specialist carriers ranging from the guys who run eBay’s Global Shipping Service fulfilment in the UK and as far away as Singapore (SingPost), practically the other side of the world and pretty much every carrier in between.

Of course complexity from using multiple carriers will always be an issue but there are software solutions to take care of this.

Looking back at this year’s inaugural eDelivery Conference and 10th Internet Retailing conference it would have been hard to believe ten years ago that something as mundane as couriers would demand it’s own event. It does though, and from speaking to exhibitors it hit the spot with senior decision makers from many of the countries top 500 retailers in attendance.

10 year’s ago it was selling on the Internet that was the innovation, a decade later that job’s about 20% done. Today it’s delivery and fulfilment that’s coming to the fore. One constant still remains, retailers can’t shut down while they fix their problems. They need solutions, they need to be seamless, they need it to be frictionless for the consumer and the solutions not only need to slot into existing operations but they need to perform at scale from day one.

In another ten years we may have fixed internet retailing, we may have fixed deliveries. Somehow I think not and whilst the scale and solutions may change the fundamental that will remain is that retailers will still be struggling to keep up with consumers’ changing demands.

Internet Retailing and eDelivery Expos

If you missed this weeks eDelivery and Internet Retailing Conferences, watch out for the Internet Retailing Expo and eDelivery Expo in the Spring.