The seed for this thought came from Robert Hall (of Foolproof) and I must caveat that I have limited knowledge of the development of load balancing and traffic management in this scenario so am prepared to be roundly schooled by those that do (paging Ross Peat). With that understood, my approach for FMCG delivery services is as follows:
Allow customers into your online store. The pinch point is the allocation of delivery slots, customers understand that this is a problem which needs to be sorted through a fair algorithm that balances the logistical complexity with needs-management for the vulnerable. So we can manage that expectation and support them with at least part of their intent. Unlike a physical store, there is no obvious reason to curtail the capacity for browsing and making product selection choices. Currently, the retailers are holding people at the door, keeping the virtual shutters down and telling them their checkout queues are too busy. They can’t even come in the door to see what products are on the shelves.
So, to correct this, allow customers into the store where they can be permitted to browse the inventory, select the items and quantities they desire (with predictions of availability based on the stock levels and completed purchase patterns) and then join the queue for a delivery slot. In this instance, some endowment effect is at work and the abandonment of their delivery is disincentivised.
This is where it gets complicated, my first thought was that the slot-wait should be a ‘ring back’ style queue where you’re contacted by email or text when slots are opened up and so the wait happens in the background without you having to attend to it in an open window. However, this would create a batch demand where traffic would flood in as tranches of slots are released. Then I thought perhaps customers could select a series of preferences for slots (a set of five preferred dates and times) and the system accounts for this demand and attempts to predict and balance the slot allocation, providing a trackable progress indicator to the customer.
Or perhaps something even more complex: an approach where essential items are batched for earlier delivery (fresh bread, milk, eggs, paracetamol, hygiene products) where items you’re prepared to wait for (laundry products, low-volume ambient lines) are held back at a lower priority. Consistent with this could be the creation of ‘essentials bundles’ which groups common essential items into a repeatable and pre-packaged SKU that could be delivered more efficiently than 0000s of unique baskets.
The data obtained from customers creating these (ahem) ‘hanging baskets’ can be used to help the retailers plan their sophisticated supply chains and delivery logistics. From a user experience perspective, I’m particularly keen that we find a way to open the shutters and not insist everyone waits outside the store only to be frustrated and disappointed at all steps of the journey once they’re in.
Over to you in the comments.
[this post originally appeared on LinkedIn 30 March 2020]