This is a next in a series of ‘road tests’ of a UK retailer’s online channel and the overall fulfilment customer experience. Aspects that affect the overall customer experience are reviewed, including: product pages, online help and FAQs basket, checkout, fulfilment, delivery and customer returns processes. TheWhiteCompany.com was reviewed in June 2013.
Last week I shopped online for some new bedding at The White Company . I have always loved The White Company for their wide range high quality, fresh, mostly white homeware products and as such they occupied a specific niche in the market to shoppers looking for just that. However, I haven’t actually purchased from them for a while and so was intrigued to see how they translated this online and what they did around customer fulfilment best practice.
Home page, delivery options and returns policy
From the Google search results page, The White Company listing made no mention of their delivery policy, which maybe an indication of the perception of competition in the space. However on arrival at home page and on every page on the site the delivery proposition was prominent and with the two features that interest buyers the most: 1. How do I get free delivery? and 2. How fast can I get my order?
There were three delivery options: Standard (3 days), Next day and a Saturday delivery. An actual “next day” delivery is only possible if the order is placed by 12pm on the day before, which does miss the lunchtime shopping window. Also if a customer selects a Saturday delivery, then it can only be delivered on a Saturday. If the cut off of Friday 12pm is missed then the delivery is delayed until the following Saturday – which could be less than convenient.
It is also advised that some deliveries may require a signature, but there no explanation is given as to the criteria for this. Does this mean that the customer must at be home to receive the item?
Most of the additional information about delivery is hidden behind a click-through to the terms and conditions page, which is frustrating to look through to check basic information (which was the answer to the ‘signature required’ question above?
The White Company do not offer free return shipping or provide returns labels to their customers. So, any return will need to be arranged by the customer themselves and delivery confirmation was required to ascertain return delivery success. Alternatively, there is an option to return to store. In addition, return and refund processes did vary according to the original payment method. Paypal purchases can only be returned and refunded via the warehouse.
I must say that as a new online shopper that browsing the The White Company website required a degree of perseverance and commitment.
There was a lack of a clear product hierarchy beyond the main product category of “Bedroom” and was not intuitive in terms of shopping the whole product range, both in terms of being able to compare styles and to know where specific products were located in the site. I was specifically looking for sheets and pillowcases only, and I found that I had to shop within a specific “set” to find what I wanted. Even then it was quite difficult to compare products were within a given category, even when there was a specific bedroom category page designed to showcase the range.
The product page for the products I was looking actually presented the style, e.g. “Savoy Bed Linen Collection” and then offered the products within that style, e.g. pillowcases, sheets (listed by size) etc. Within the page itself there was drop-down filter available to restrict the view to the desired size, although the filter wasn’t in the traditional place on the left hand side.
The page is arranged so that the products are ‘beneath the fold’, along with the Add to Basket button.
For each size, stock availability was provided as either being In Stock or Sold Out. Does Sold Out mean no more stock ever? Or that it will be available again soon?
Delivery policy, including the free delivery criteria was clearly presented within the tabbed area at the top of the page.
To select items, the customer selects the number of each product that they want and then clicks Add to Shopping Basket, after which a message “Your items have been added to basket” appears. However there is no confirmation of what items these were, so to check it is a trip back up the top of the page to the Shopping Bag to view what has been added.
Basket and Checkout
After a click of View bag, the White Company’s Shopping Bag strangely becomes a Shopping Basket:
Located at the top of the basket, is a good reminder about how to qualify for free delivery. Within the basket it is clear to see the stock availability of the product and also the discounts applicable per product. At the bottom of the basket, the order total includes the total discount – which makes it easier for the customer to see how much they have saved – and the most economic delivery cost is automatically applied based on the current basket composition.
And there is an option to indicate that the order could be gift boxed too. More on that shortly.
After registration, it was to the Delivery Details page to enter of the delivery address. The applicable delivery options were listed although they could do with some simplifying, particularly the definition of Next Day vs. Saturday delivery, and also the gifting option.
Either from the basket or on the Delivery Details page, a customer can elect to gift box their order or insert a gift message, which is a nice touch. When the gift option is activated, parts of order can be delivered as a gift, with the ability to assign items to the same or to their own gift boxes, complete with gift message:
On the payment page the billing address is defaulted from the delivery address, and there are a variety of payment methods, including debit/credit cards, gift voucher and Paypal. Only if you read the fine print, payment by Paypal means that a customer cannot use a return to store option, which could disappoint some customers later.
Completing the order was straightforward, and the Order Confirmation email was received shortly after.
Order confirmation and delivery tracking
Over the next few hours, I received two separate order confirmation emails with the subject “Thank you for shopping with The White Company”
The first contained the order number and advised me that I would be receiving one another “within the next 24 hours” with further details.
The second had the details of my order, how much I paid, the delivery option, delivery charge and also a reminder of the promotional discount that had been received.
The White Company despatched my order the next day. I was notified of this by another email, which provided information about the delivery, including the tracking number and a link through to a website to track progress of the delivery – which in this case Parcelforce.
One thing that immediately struck me is that a signature will be required for this delivery! While this was highlighted as a possibility on the Delivery Information pages, there was nothing to indicate that this would apply to my order.
The White Company email also made it clear that it was not possible to track the delivery until the following day. The inability to track immediately is not an unusual where delivery tracking is provided by the carrier, rather than the shipper.
If the customer did attempt to track the delivery on the Parcelforce website using the consignment number provided, this rather unhelpful message was presented by Parcelforce:
However, the next business day, full delivery tracking was available for my delivery, and included not only a full delivery tracking history but also the image of the proof of delivery signature of the person that accepted delivery once it was completed.
Receiving the package
Within 24 hours of despatch the the package was delivered by Parcelforce.
Within the package, there were my products and a Despatch Note, including the Return Form on the back. Again, it is made clear that if the I wanted to return an item, then I had to arrange and pay for a return delivery service – that had a proof of delivery.
After sales and returns
The White Company had an online customer self-service facility that is available to all registered on-line customers. The My Order History page was somewhat rudimentary and had not had the same attention paid to it as to the other customer emails.:
However, what I did really like was the thank you email that The White Company sent me a week after the delivery which was lovely and something that more retailers should use.
Suggestions for improvements
The White Company had a strong level of consistency across all of its email communications, with expectations set at each step and where there were gaps in the process (for example the delay in delivery tracking updates being available) these were clearly called out.
However, there were some areas for improvement in the fulfilment customer experience:
Use additional messaging about stock, particularly where there is no stock to clarify which there it is out of stock (and more coming soon) or whether it is sold out (and never to be stocked again).
Next day delivery should have a later cut off time to maximise the shopping window of customers. 12pm is far too early in the day, compared to competitors, such as JohnLewis.com (7pm) and Next (10pm).
I found delivery options a little confusing, so using dynamic delivery options and offering a nominated day delivery option may make it easier for the customer to choose when they want it, without confusing rules. As gifting seems to be as to be a focus, nominated day delivery gives the customer the control to specify when they want delivery to occur without having to work it out … particularly when paired when the order cut-off time is a major consideration.
Advertise that customers has a choice of return options: return to warehouse or return to store, to maximise the convenience factor for customers.
And finally within checkout, provide links to pop-up delivery and returns information will help customers to make an informed choice. Particularly as the use of PayPal, restricts the available returns options.
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