Delivering Food in the Internet Age

September 23, 2009

The DeliveryDemon hates shopping. Walk round the supermarket spending money on stuff to eat, and you only have to do the same thing a week later. It’s SUCH a chore!! So it came as a bit of a surprise, returning from a holiday in the Lake District, to have a reasonably enjoyable shopping experience. Which, of course lead the DeliveryDemon to wonder why she doesn’t mind picking up foodstuff at Booths in Keswick, while she absolutely hates trudging round each and every one of the local supermarkets in her home area.

And before anyone suggests that the DeliveryDemon shop online to avoid the supermarket experience, think about trust. On a visit to a supermarket you can form an opinion about how the goods are handled when customers can see what’s going on. If an online order is packed in some distant warehouse, that discipline has gone. If you don’t see respect for food in a store, how is food being handled behind the scenes? If, when you come to unpack your order and cook dinner, the veg are unappetisingly wilted or bashed, what do you do? You can complain and return items but by then your meal has been spoiled, and often people find it too much hassle to return stuff. It’s you who has to deal with the quality problem.

So why does Booths deliver a shopping experience which is so different? Certainly the layout is a bit more spacious, reducing the frustration caused by shoppers who stop for an extended chat, trolleys carefully parked to block the aisle. The excellent selection of beers on offer is an attraction, as is the carefully chosen range of local products, but the range doesn’t dictate the shopping experience. The secret is in the way the goods are handled and displayed, something long known to every market trader with a layer of shiny polished apples hiding a stock of poorer quality fruit.

Compare and contrast:

  • A freshly picked carrot with a glazed looking item from near-zero storage,  in its brief orange period between frozen lump and black slime
  • The tight white curds of a trimmed new cauliflower with the brown-splodged, limp-leaf-hidden face of one which has survived a lengthy trip along the supply chain
  • Tomatos with the sharp green smell of the plant, and the green-red, rock hard spheres, picked long before ripeness to prevent bruising in transit
  • A choice of breads from various bakers, each with their own baking method, and a choice of breadshapes all made to the same process and with zero taste variation
  • Glittering fish you need to get up early for because it comes in fresh every day and sells out every day, and dull-eyed specimens dragged from the freezer
  • Large packs of perky-leaved herbs, and niggardly sachets bulked out with parsley stalks and leaf fragments.

When the Delivery Demon stops at Booths she usually heads back south with a full shopping bag. Lakeland plum bread, Morecambe Bay prawns, rye loaf, ‘Cornish’ pasties, fresh fruit and vegetables, chocolates, artisan crisps and some interesting local beers. When she shops in her home area, she comes back with a bad temper and a list of items which were out of stock.

What’s this got to do with the internet age? In the old days, word of a poor shopping experience would circulate in a local community, but lack of convenient options would to some extent protect a poor quality shop from wholesale customer defection. The internet has widened the options. Supermarkets think they have addressed the internet age by offering online shopping and web-based information. Many have still to realise that the web has created a window into the quality of their entire operation.

Putting the ‘Live’ into Delivery

May 17, 2009

The DeliveryDemon has recently had the good fortune to spend time with some world class athletes. They are at the very top of a highly demanding minority sport and the pressure to deliver is intense.

  • In competition there is no second chance to deliver the goods. Just a little less than top performance on the day, and the medal goes to someone else.
  • Delivery in competition depends on rigorous training and other preparation prior to competition. It’s not just a one-day effort.
  • There’s a lot of risk management to consider – highly trained athletes operate on the fine line between top fitness and injury, where a brief misjudgement can lead to weeks of layoff.
  • It’s impossible to operate at competition level all the time, and athletes need a cycle of preparation, peak performance, and relaxation / recuperation.

There’s another aspect of minority sports where delivery comes into play. In the absence of commercial sponsorhips, athletes may fund their training by coaching others. Some may branch out into the production of specialist clothing and equipment for their sports. Since minority sports by their nature have a limited number of participants, the coach or equipment supplier will become known quite quickly. They will be judged both by the quality of what they sell, and their sporting achievements. Other participants will quickly become aware of any new or innovative products which they introduce to the marketplace. Equally, news of poor delivery is quickly passed around.

There is a surprising number of well-run small businesses in this field. Because the reputations of the business and its owner are intertwined, the athlete is under intense pressure to deliver quality in competitive results and quality in goods and services. There is also a need to balance peaks of performance with periods which allow for both physical recovery and product development. The athlette lives constantly with a focus on delivery.

The principles which apply to delivery by these micro businesses are equally applicable to large scale commercial enterprises. However, the complexity of large organisations means that they often lose this single-minded focus on customer delivery. Large organisations often look to high profile sportsmen to deliver training on individual motivation. They would do well to look closely at the less well-funded areas of sport. These microbusinesses provide a delivery benchmark which many large companies are incapable of equalling.

Whatever Happened to Quality Management?

April 2, 2009

A strange new convention has emerged during the last few years and the DeliveryDemon doesn’t think much of it.

It can be seen in many customer-facing organisation and it goes something like this:

  • Something goes wrong and a customer complains
  • The organisation investigates the complaint and gets back to the customer with an explanation of why it will never happen again. The customer gets a refund and possibly a gift ‘as a thank you for bringing the matter to the organisation’s attention’.
  • The same thing happens again and again with different customers. When the complaint level reaches a critical mass, the organisation does one of two things. The better organisations do some root cause analysis and make changes to get rid of the problem. Other organisations – and the number of these is increasing – stop responding to complaints, in particular those from customers who have been affected several times.

Two things are happening here.

  • The organisation is not bothering to carry out pre-emptive quality management processes
  • The organisation is assuming that it’s down to the customers to carry out quality checks.

It might be the bread from the supermarket not being properly cooked, or the bag of parsley containing fragments held together with numerous rubber bands. It might be the electricity supply which keeps cutting out because movement of nearby tree branches causes equipment to cut out. It might be diminishing pressure in the water supply caused by a type of pressure valve known to malfunction regularly. It might be the emailed or website link which doesn’t work. It might be the peak hour commuter train delays regularly caused by running freight on the same line. It might be the hospital which sends a letter cancelling a Choose and Book appointment and replacing it with an appointment for an unspecified procedure. Most people have a fund of similar examples.

There is something seriously wrong with this widespread custom of organisations delivering poor quality for as long as they can get away with it.