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The biggest challenge to ecommerce is delivery, according to Britain's ecommerce trade body, which is launching a new trust mark scheme to encourage merchants and transporters to give consumers more options.

The Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) says very few e-tailers are getting it right. The consumers don't buy because they don't know when goods will arrive; and the merchants don't offer flexible delivery times because the transporters charge more for these services than consumers will pay.

James Roper, CEO of IMRG, is out to fix the problem. "Twenty per cent of deliveries of items that don't fit through a letter box fail first time because there's nobody home," he told OUT-LAW. He puts the average cost of a failed delivery – including frustrating calls to rearrange delivery, drivers taking goods away and returning another day, and customers abandoning the merchant – at £100.

For the past eight years, the IMRG has tried to bring transporters and merchants together to solve the problem with a trust mark scheme, to be known as Internet Delivery Is Safe. Arcadia, Comet, Dabs.com, Kelkoo and Screwfix are on board, together with transporters including Royal Mail, DHL, Lynx and Parcelforce.

The IMRG's primary aim is to get rid of avoidable waste. According to Roper, 80 per cent of sites ask no questions about delivery and offer no options. His colleague on the project, Colum Joyce, formerly DHL's Global e-Commerce Strategy Manager, describes home delivery as "the sleeping policeman on the information superhighway."

Their first target is for websites to start telling users more about the delivery services already in place. Even if delivery will be Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five, Roper wants websites to communicate this to their customers. "Just tell people what you will do," he says.

Further improvements, he believes, will be iterative developments.

The draft IMRG Delivery Charter, the cornerstone of the trust mark scheme, is currently in Version 0.2. It covers more than just telling customers what you do. It is a sub-set and extension of the better-known ISIS Code of Practice for e-Commerce, an existing merchant verification scheme that is visible on many sites in the form of a blue badge with the words "Internet Shopping Is Safe" and a picture of a credit card secured by a padlock.

The aim of the Delivery Charter and the Internet Delivery Is Safe scheme is to protect the public and to support merchants and transporters.

Some of the draft Charter's points address availability: if goods are out of stock, remove them from the website, unless that would be inconsistent with what the customer expects (e.g. if the goods were also shown in a print catalogue) – in which case the goods should be clearly marked on the website as unavailable.

It also addresses data flows, from consumer to merchant, from merchant to transporter, and from transporter to consumer. The merchant's or transporter's data protection and security policies must be available for review from any data collection interface screen, it says, and all data should be retained for a minimum of one year.

It lists important features of the fulfilment contract that should be negotiated between the merchant and transporter – including the agreed timings for delivery, the required labelling, format and placement on items for delivery, and the guarantees and warranties.

It also sets out minimum information on delivery progress, to be provided or to be available for viewing from the transporter to the merchant and consumer, including the transporter's name and the dates and times of pick up and delivery by the transporter.

The IMRG's objectives are to reduce the rate of first-time failures by 50 per cent within a year of the scheme's operation. This, he says, would save £2.5 bn. The first applications of the new scheme should become visible on participating sites from September, according to Roper, just in time for this year's Christmas shopping.

See: ISIS

Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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