Delivery Revealed – Results of the First UK eCommerce Shipping Survey


Having recently opened an office in the UK, post-purchase communication specialist parcelLab carried out a survey of the shipping services provided by the country’s 100 largest online retailers. The results were both surprising and worrying. parcelLab CEO and founder Tobias Buxhoidt reveals all…

Shopping online should be more convenient for the customer than going to a store. For this reason, customers expect their parcel to arrive conveniently, without shipping costs and, most importantly, on time. So, to what extent do UK online shops meet these expectations? To find out, we analysed the logistics services of the UK’s 100 largest retailers, placing orders with all of them, documenting the services each one offers, then monitoring the post-purchase customer experience.

Inflexible and expensive delivery

Looking first at the delivery options open to UK online shoppers, we found that there could definitely be more flexibility from retailers. For example, very few (six out of 100) offered a choice of courier, with most expecting customers to accept the one they selected. In other countries, such as Germany, many retailers allow shoppers to choose who delivers their package. This was a sign of things to come.

We found that freedom of choice in delivery times was also limited. While 72% of retailers offer express delivery, only seven out of the 100 analysed provide a same-day option, and this is often geographically restricted. Zara, for example, only offers this service in London, and Missguided in Manchester. Furthermore, only 42 retailers offer weekend delivery and just 25 allow the customer to pick a particular time slot at checkout to receive their purchase.

IMRG PL Blog Inflexible and expensive delivery

Although not being particularly customer-oriented, our study shows that customers are also paying dearly for having their goods delivered. Only 12 of the 100 retailers offer free shipping regardless of spend. Although 65 provide free shipping above a minimum order value, this spend limit can range from £10 up to £150. For those that do apply a shipping cost, the amount is usually quite high, averaging £3.99 across all the online shops we surveyed.

IMRG PL Blog Shipping charges

Are shipping costs charged by the 100 retailers?

Communication breakdown

Not only could retailers offer more flexibility and value in terms of their delivery operations, but once customers have parted with their hard-earned money, they are pretty much on their own. After checkout, most of the UK’s 100 largest online retailers stop directly communicating with their customers, leaving them to check the status of their orders themselves.

Of the 100 retailers, only 11 email or text their customers directly during shipping, with only four of these sending personalised messages. The remaining 89 either leave this to their courier company or, even worse, the customer receives no updates at all. This means that 96% of retailers are failing to provide their customers with a personalised post-purchase experience – very surprising at a time of heightened competition when so much emphasis is quite rightly placed on customer experience.

Potentially even more worrying from a marketing perspective is the fact that only 13 retailers have the page where customers can track and trace their delivery integrated into their own web shop. This means that an incredible 87 are missing out on the opportunity to drive customers back to their website during the shipping process, and therefore denying themselves the repeat purchases that could result.

Perhaps most surprising of all is that 17 of the 100 retailers we monitored either do not send a dispatch confirmation or fail to give customers any tracking information about their delivery. Meanwhile, for 15 retailers that claimed to provide tracking information, all we were greeted with when we checked immediately was the error message “Tracking number not known”. We later discovered that this was due to the retailer providing the tracking information before the carrier had registered the parcel. It was resolved once this had been done, but still resulted in an information-less gap for a period of time.

IMRG PL Blog Track and Trace

Over two thirds of the 100 online retailers rely on the carrier to provide the Track & Trace page.

IMRG PL Blog Track and Trace information


Availability of the shipment information on Track & Trace page.

Many unhappy returns

Finally, we analysed returns policies to discover how easy it was to send back unwanted or damaged purchases. It’s another critical area in terms of customer satisfaction, with over two-thirds of shoppers checking an ecommerce website for its returns policy before making a purchase, according to the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study.

The overall returns picture was mixed and again not very encouraging. Amazon sets the benchmark here, always providing a postage paid returns label with every delivery along with the option to return goods to a local parcel shop. So how did the UK’s top 100 online retailers measure up?

Well, disappointingly most didn’t. Some 22 failed to provide customers with a returns label or any alternative returns options (such as a collection service), meaning their customers have to organise the return themselves. More encouragingly almost half (49) do enclose this label, but sadly this is not always with postage paid.

Most do, however, allow customers to return goods to their physical store and 55 to a parcel shop, such as Doodle or a parcel locker – both these options are viewed as convenient alternatives for the customer, especially those who live in major cities where these services are often located close by.

Free returns were unfortunately not the norm, with just over one-third (37) of retailers surveyed not offering this service. Communication again proved a challenge, with 25 retailers providing no updates or tracking information on returned items. Retailers did perform better with refunds, with almost three quarters not letting their customers wait longer than three days for their money. But overall, the returns process was found to be far from perfect.

IMRG PL Blog Returns processing

Figure 15 Returns processing: the majority of retailers offer free returns in store and almost every other includes a returns label in the parcel.

IMRG PL Blog Refunds

Figure 18 Refund: 73% of retailers refund the money within 3 days.

The hard truth

So what can we take away from these findings? Essentially, the analysis shows that while retailers make customer centricity a top priority pre-checkout, during post-purchase the focus is simply on getting parcels to customers as cheaply and efficiently as possible for the retailer. Sadly, ensuring convenience for the customer is badly neglected.

What’s more, retailers are not using opportunities in their post-purchase communications to show their customers they care through detailed and personalised messages on the status of their delivery – a clear opportunity missed to strengthen customer relationships and build loyalty.

Most also fail to include any cross-selling options in their post-purchase communications, such as offering discounts and suggesting complementary purchases. And when you consider that our research shows that 70-80% of personalised post-purchase messages are opened and result in 0.5-1% of customers immediately making a new purchase, it’s clear that by not doing this UK retailers are missing out on a lot of potential business.

In fact, we looked at the Statista value of internet retail sales in 2018 per month and multiplied the figure by the additional revenue generated post checkout by companies that personalise shipping communications. We found that the sub-par after-sales support in the UK is potentially costing online retailers millions of pounds in potential sales. Improving the post-purchase experience from delivery options to communication would make retailers stand out in the increasingly crowded marketplace and significantly boost revenues. The opportunity is there, but which retailers are going to be the first to capitalise on it?

Retailers are no longer defined by their products, but instead they are differentiated by the service they provide from initial visit right through to returns. Therefore, if a retailer wants to consistently outgrow its competitors, they need to build strong customer loyalty through above average customer experiences. This is just as important after checkout as before, if not more so.

Download parcelLab’s UK E-Commerce Shipping Study here.

Tobias Buxhoidt, CEO and Founder, parcelLab


The 100 leading UK online retailers surveyed

IMRG PL Blog Beauty

IMRG PL Blog Clothing

IMRG PL Blog Multi

IMRG PL Blog Electronics

IMRG PL Blog Home

IMRG PL Blog Sport

IMRG PL Blog Toys

IMRG Retail membership banner

Join thousands of other Online Retail professionals

Get unique insights straight to your inbox for free, and improve your understanding of online retail. Subscribe to Online Retail Weekly now.

Webinar Scroll Banner
Join thousands of other Online Retail professionals

Get unique insights straight to your inbox for free, and improve your understanding of online retail. Subscribe to Online Retail Weekly now.

Webinar Scroll Banner