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Logistics Nightmare

When Christopher was having chemotherapy, his immune system was dangerously compromised one week in every three, and it was unsafe for him to go out too much in case he caught an infection. But he still wanted to contribute to the running of the household to the fullest extent he could, so we started making use of the Waitrose online delivery service. It worked really well – he placed an order via their website, one of the staff at the Malvern branch did the shopping for him (pushing a trolley round the store with a handheld device with the shopping list and bar-code reader), and one of the shelf-stackers doubled up as delivery van driver and brought the shopping round in a time-slot that we’d chosen. 

I’d assumed that was the standard model for online grocery deliveries. When I’ve subsequently had Tesco online orders, they appear to come from the larger Worcester branch, rather than the more local but much smaller Ledbury branch, but it’s still a pretty local service, and I suppose that Worcester can offer more choice. On Friday, however, I needed to stock up on basics and couldn’t face going into Malvern to shop in person in Waitrose – it’s a complete scrum in there over the Christmas holidays and the parking is a nightmare. Instead I placed an order online with Morrisons, who have a large supermarket at the far end of Malvern, about 8 miles away from me. I naturally assumed that my shopping would be coming from there. But no. The driver got lost, which isn’t a good sign (especially as the postcode directs most satnavs pretty much directly to my front door!) and had to phone to ask for directions. It turned out that he wasn’t a local at all. He lives in Tamworth, 60 miles from here, well to the north of Birmingham. I was delivery number 5 out of 19 he had to do on Friday evening, and the next one was 125 miles away!

I seem to remember reading that Morrisons were later than most of the other supermarkets to cotton on to the trend towards online shopping, and so bought their way in to the market by doing a deal with Ocado, who also have a business model of a few centralised warehouses with hub-and-spoke delivery. However, I’m really surprised that Morrisons can make that business model work. It must be a complete nightmare scheduling all the deliveries to fit within the time-slots the customer has requested, and there must be huge risks of getting snarled up in traffic on the motorways. Not to mention the obvious “green” downside of all those extra food-miles, with the last person’s shopping being driven presumably hundreds of miles in total around the countryside! Plus I don’t see how the £4 or so delivery charge can possibly cover even the driver’s time, let alone petrol and overheads. That’s their problem though, not mine, and from the point of view of a consumer it all works pretty well. All the things I wanted were there, there were no missing items or substitutions, the quality was acceptable and the price was lower than I would expect to pay at Waitrose. The driver was slightly later than the specified slot, but that was mostly because he got lost. I’d be happy to use the service again, but shall keep an interested eye out on the business pages in the newspapers to see whether Morrisons are actually making any money from it.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. RuthieG | 4 January 2017 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I think all the supermarkets lose money on deliveries. A Retail Week article from 2015 suggests that the current business model is flawed, as the overall delivery costs outweigh their gross profit margin on the goods. Some major retailers have also started to charge for low value “click and collect” orders because they have found the free service unsustainable.