From being a potential lifeline for the elderly to a convenient option for busy shoppers, a home shopping service delivers plenty of benefits
Many convenience store retailers will tell you that they regularly deliver essential groceries to the homes of their elderly customers. It’s a simple yet highly valuable community service that makes the world of difference to this more vulnerable shopper group. Geeta Doal, who owns a Lifestyle Express store in Wheaton Aston, Staffordshire, is one such saviour.
“We have a number of customers who are too elderly or ill to shop for themselves, so we step in to make life easier,” she explains. “If they can’t come to us, then we go to them by taking orders over the telephone and dropping the goods off to their home. Some of our elderly customers like to come in and look around at the offers and do their own shopping, and we happily take them and their shopping home when they’ve finished. It costs us nothing, but it makes the world of difference to them,” Geeta explains.
“Home delivery is obviously a great community service, but it does also have a tangible business benefit and it does makes us money”
Peter Lamb, Lambs Larder
However, as a growing number of retailers are now learning, there are significant opportunities to be had by launching a more sophisticated home delivery offer which serves the wider community.
In addition to having a distinct community benefit, a professional home delivery service can also make you money, as Nisa head of IT David Morris explains. “Providing there are available staff, a space to store orders and an existing vehicle, a home delivery service could prove lucrative by opening up new channels and customers who don’t currently visit the store,” he says.
Peter Lamb of Lambs Larder in Bells Yew Green agrees. He’s been running a home delivery service from his East Sussex convenience store for four years.
“Home delivery is obviously a great community service, but it does also have a tangible business benefit and it does make us money,” he says. “We have a minimum order policy of £20 so we know we’ll get at least that on every order, although the average is about £40, and I did one today for £82! We tend to do about 10 home deliveries a week to the same core group of customers.”
When it comes to charging for the service, there are many different options. However, all retailers agree that charging should not be considered a way to make money, but only to cover fuel costs.
Binny Amin, who now carries out upwards of 50 deliveries a week from his Londis store in Blean and his large Budgens in Whitstable, Kent, charges a £2.50 delivery fee for orders of under £25, while in Sheffield Jai Singh offers the service for free within a three-mile radius as long as people order more than £10, excluding tobacco and the National Lottery.
Peter also offers the service for free to those who order more than £20, and charges £2 for orders below that.
“A good way of keeping costs down is to make deliveries in the evening,” Peter adds. “We do most of ours when we are on our way home from the store at the end of the day, meaning we are still making money even once the shop has closed. Doing the deliveries in the early evening also means that we don’t need to pay extra members of staff to manage the shop while we are out making deliveries, so it’s win win really. Most people request the early evening slots anyway as they fit with when they get home from work. However, if someone needed the delivery earlier in the day we would always try to accommodate that,” he adds.
Peter’s point about flexibility is a key one. Unlike the supermarkets, most of which can’t offer same-day delivery, convenience stores are perfectly placed to react quickly to customer requests. It’s a distinct point of difference that retailers such as Andy Short of the Selsey Off Licence are making the most of. Andy runs the ‘Winebulance,’ which delivers off-licence goods and essential groceries. He explains: “Doing home deliveries gives us a huge competitive advantage. Tesco, Ocado and Sainsbury’s are all very structured organisations; shoppers can’t just log on and order something to be delivered within the hour, they have to book a slot for the next day or two days’ time. Our major point of difference is that we can be flexible and we can be there within the hour if needs be.
“For example, if a local mum puts her kids to bed then fancies a glass of wine, but there isn’t a bottle in the house, she can’t go out to buy one and Tesco can’t help her. I can, though.”
However, if you offer a flexible service, you must be sure you can deliver, warns Nisa’s Morris. Whether delivering in the hour or at a set hour, ensuring that deliveries are made on time is crucial to the success of your scheme. “Customers expect to have deliveries on time and exactly as requested,” he says. “In order to be able to meet this, stores should only enter into home delivery if they understand their full stock position and operate stock control. This will reduce substitutions and unavailable products. Generally, a consumer will not use the service again if they have a poor experience. Additionally, store managers must understand new processes and have procedures in place to look after failed or refused deliveries, damages or quality issues. These must be handled well or the customer will not return to the service.”
Jai Singh strives to offer the highest possible service from his Singh’s Premier store in Sheffield. “As soon as we receive the order we call the customer back to confirm it and let them know if there are any out of stocks or replacements. Good communication when you run a home delivery scheme is vital. It’s an extension of your shop and the service has to be to the same high standards. We always aim to deliver to people on the day they place an order. We are convenience stores and we need to be convenient in all aspects of our business,” he says.
Binny Amin agrees that high standards and professional service are the key to making a successful and profitable home delivery scheme.
“I spent a lot of time going out on deliveries with my staff at first to ensure that everything was done correctly, and every single member of my team is able to drive and carry out the deliveries, which means we are always able to fulfil a request,” he says.
Andy takes a similar approach. “We do about 40 home deliveries a week on average, and we tend to do them throughout the day if people need things urgently, but if they can wait until the evening, then we’ll consolidate them and do them all in a single run. There are two of us that can drive the van, myself and the manager so there’s always someone able to go out and one of us to stay behind and manage the shop,” he says.
Once the logistics have been sorted, it’s important to promote your home delivery service. Binny says: “We spent quite a bit of time promoting the scheme to boost awareness among local shoppers and those from slightly further afield who might not have heard of us.
“The service is advertised in-store, on our website and on the Facebook page. We have also invested in some local mailshots and a leaflet drop a mile-and-a-half beyond the stores’ core catchment areas. In addition, whenever we do a delivery to a new address we tend to pop a leaflet through the letterboxes of surrounding houses, informing people that one of their neighbours has had a home delivery from us. We know it works as we’ve had calls from people who have seen the leaflets.”
Harmesh Chopra of Stowheath Convenience Store in Wolverhampton also believes in the power of marketing. “We introduced a delivery service as soon as we opened our doors because we knew our local community had a real need for it and we took out a front-page advert with the local press to publicise it,” he says.
Jai likes to bring a touch of humour to his promotional material. “Home delivery is particularly popular in the cold and wet winter months when people don’t want to go out, but also in the summer when people seem to drink more alcohol and then don’t want to drive to the shops. We used this fact in a recent local marketing campaign telling our customers ‘don’t drink and drive, we’ll deliver to you!’ which was quite popular and raised a laugh or two,” he says.
So, now that you’ve taken the order, delivered the goods on time and in perfect condition, how do you go about payment? Binny provides shoppers with two options: “Shoppers can pay by cash on delivery, or via their cards over the phone. My advice would be to speak to your terminal provider and ask to have this service set up. It’s very useful, especially when we have large orders, which fortunately we are getting more and more of now.”
Peter’s customers tend to pay in cash, but he also has a mobile card machine for those who wish to pay with plastic. “At the end of the day everything about your home delivery service, from the ordering to the drop off and payment needs to work for the customer; it’s got to help them out and leave them satisfied. Get it right and everyone is laughing, including you.”
An efficient home delivery service wouldn’t be possible without a reliable van and, as a growing number of retailers are discovering, the benefits of having one can extend far beyond simply shifting stock. Costing just £500, the eye-catching ‘Winebulance’ stickers that Andy Short had made for his Fiat Doblo van are helping him to boost sales and footfall in ways that even the most eye-catching leaflets would fail to.
“A great many people call us up to place an order for home delivery because they have seen the van out and about. It’s a fantastic local marketing tool and much more powerful than a leaflet, which will ultimately end up in the bin,” he says.
And as well as promoting his delivery service, the van also functions as an excellent footfall driver for the store. “People see the van out and about and it prompts them to come and visit the shop as well,” he says. “We’ve actually seen a 10% increase in store footfall since we bought the van and started parking it outside,” he says.
Jai Singh is also realising the benefits of van brand power. “We have a fully branded Singh’s Premier Smart Car and a Renault Master panel van which we use for large home deliveries and shifting stock. People really take notice when we are out and about,” he explains. “One woman called us up to make a home delivery order last month after having seen the van more than five miles away from the shop. We’d have never pulled in customers from that far afield without it. I am also in the process of looking for another vehicle, perhaps a smaller car for quick local drops, as I really think that home delivery is going to take off this year. I’ve actually seen a great deal on a Citroen C1 for less than £100 a month on finance, which we could also have branded up.
Harmesh is already enjoying such benefits. “We have a car that we use for small deliveries and a Peugeot Boxer van for larger ones, which is an ideal size for collecting stock and deliveries,” he says.
Binny also sings the praises of his Citroen Berlingo. “It’s not refrigerated, but most of our deliveries are to very local addresses and we always aim to have goods from shop to porch in well under 30 minutes, so it’s just perfect,” he says.
Peter Lamb has a fully branded Fiat Ducato van which is broken into two halves, with the front end refrigerated. “This enables us to deliver chilled and frozen goods to a much wider radius with no worries about food safety, which is great as it really helps to raise brand awareness,” he says.
Taking an order
When it comes to taking home delivery orders, the type of facility that you offer is best decided by your customer base. Peter Lamb, for example, recently switched from an online ordering facility to a telephone-based service after he discovered that this was his shoppers’ preferred method. “Older, less internet-savvy people prefer to make orders over the phone,” he explains. Andy Short thinks phone ordering has many advantages. “We have a list of all of our products, prices and promotions online to help people decide what they want before they call. Talking to the customers works very well as very often they’ll also want advice on food and wine pairings,” he adds.
Telephone ordering is also the preferred method for most of Binny’s customers, although social media is slowly starting to get a look-in as younger customers come on board.
“At the moment, people order over the phone with some on email and interestingly I’ve also recently started getting a few orders sent via private messages on Facebook. As long as you ensure that the site and email are constantly monitored, it works brilliantly,” he says.
Jai’s orders are also mainly phoned in, however he also offers a simple online ordering facility on the store’s website. “It allows people to type in their shopping list, choose a delivery slot and add their address,” he says.
Jai and Binny are also two of a number of independent retailers set to start offering home delivery through the new Cornershoponline scheme. The e-commerce site, which gives independent retailers a professional-looking platform through which to offer home delivery and click and collect, trialled with 10 retailers back in Febuary with a full rollout expected shortly. Retailers who sign up can use its brand imagery and select from thousands of product photos to showcase their ranges, for 50p per transaction.