Kennedy: Two-day delivery becomes eight

PHOTOGRAPHER:

It being summer, most of the dressy heels in local stores were open-toed, but I wanted a closed-toe shoe for a wedding.

Online, I found what I wanted, placed the order, and the shoes arrived at my door three days later. The only problem was they were a bit tight.

So I went online again to order a half-size larger. A confirmation email promised at-home delivery in two days’ time.

But then I waited, and fretted, and waited some more as I tracked the shoes’ meandering, eight-day journey from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, back to the Garden State and then on to Massachusetts before finally making their way to New York.

In the end, I was not barefoot at the wedding – and I learned a bit about COVID-era logistics, too.

“As with many industries, the transportation market, and parcel delivery in particular, is in a state of upheaval due to the pandemic,” Shay Scott told me by email.

The risk of jamming up “has always been present,” says Scott, executive director of the Global Supply Chain Institute and a professor at the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College of Business in Knoxville. But it was ignored as we became accustomed to rapid, surefire delivery of purchases, “similar to how we simply expect the lights to come on when we flip the switch.”

Logistics, though, “is actually much more complex,” he added, and lacks infinite capacity – as retailers learned over the past 18 months as some third-party carriers, stretched thin, turned away orders.

“Given the change in buying patterns to more online, these capacity concerns will not ease soon,” Scott said, despite efforts to find new fulfillment models.

And how do retailers manage consumer expectations in the meantime, especially if delivery is outsourced?

By not overpromising or underdelivering, says Bruce Winder, a Toronto-based retail analyst and author of the book “Retail Before, During & After Covid-19.”

“The reality is that customers overwhelmingly want next-day delivery and providers that can’t provide that will struggle,” he says. Companies such as Amazon that control their supply chain “will delight” by meeting delivery commitments while those that rely on third parties may suffer.

“I think this dynamic will separate the winners from the losers in e-commerce,” Winder said in an email.

While I admit to becoming a bit obsessive in tracking my shoes, delivery transparency is expected nowadays, Winder and Scott both said.

Consumers, though, may not fully grasp the language of logistics to know, for instance, that being “in transit” – as my order sometimes was – “doesn’t mean that it will not sit on a trailer overnight or the weekend, or that it won’t move in an unexpected way toward the customer,” Scott said.

That’s how capacity is balanced as delivery commitments are met, he said. “It is all part of the new reality we have as consumers.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

Categories: Business

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