A report to be published tomorrow, Return to Sender: A Study of Order Fulfilment of Online Stores, blasts two of the UK’s leading high street retailers for dismal online order fulfilment.

The study, published by management consultancy Shelley Taylor & Associates, analyses the performance of leading e-tailers following the placing of orders on their websites. It includes everything from delivery times and postal charges to after-sales service. The report also features a ‘horror stories’ section starring, among others, Boots the Chemist and Argos, the GUS-owned catalog store chain.

Shelley researchers ordered an item from Boots’ website on March 3 and received an online confirmation. By March 16, the order remained resolutely undelivered resulting in a phonecall to Boots – which then denied that an order had been placed. A second order was placed the same day but without success when the report went to press.

Argos did only marginally better. The item delivered to Shelley arrived without a receipt or return instructions and several phonecalls were necessary to establish the returns procedure. The report alleges that the Argos customer service agent who finally dealt with the matter was “very rude and said there would be a pick-up charge of £3.90”.

Postage and packaging costs remain a “significant hidden charge”, avers the report, with one e-tailer, Elonex [an IT company owned by consumers’ champion Sir Alan Sugar], charging £15 to deliver a blank recordable CD that cost just £1.50.

Judged best of the UK bunch was Blackstar, a Belfast-based online video shop with music retailer HMVin second place. Among US-based e-tailers, Amazon.com leads whilst gift and greetings card chain Hallmark trails at the rear of the pack.

Concludes the report: “Online vendors need to grow up. They must stop thinking of virtual stores as a playground in which all the other kids are begging to play. Until customers receive what they want, when they want it … the experience of online shopping will remain unfulfilling to consumers – and profits will remain elusive to online vendors.”

The Times