Change in retail and shopping isn’t something new.  In the 1950s, we went from individual greengrocers, bakeries and butchers to supermarkets.  In the 1980s, out of town retail parks took huge amounts of footfall away from the traditional high streets.

And as we now all know, the continued development of the internet from the early 1990s completely transformed not just the way we shop but go about our everyday lives.

But these points are really high level.  For every major change in commerce that can be seen throughout history, there’s a considerable number of individual components; aspects that although seem secondary or tertiary, have actually had a considerable effect in their own right, which in turn has impacted on the industry or approach as a whole.

The changes in availability and delivery expectations, for instance, are a prime example of exactly this.  Not something the general consumer will be aware of, the reality is retailers have had to change their approach to product accessibility in recent times to meet customer expectations and remain competitive – all because of the integration of digital.

The 24/7 Option

It wasn’t that long ago when Sundays were deathly quiet.  There were only a handful of shops open and most of your time was spent with family, looking towards the week ahead.

Now to all intents and purposes, Sunday is just another normal day in terms of shopping.  Sure, bricks and mortar stores have restricted hours, but as soon as you open up your browser, you have the ability to shop for as long as you want, whenever you want.

There’s no need to wait until mid-morning to buy the item you’re looking for, or conversely, have to rush to get to the till by 4pm.  The internet provides you with the possibility of shopping as and when you want, based around your needs and schedule.

Of course, you’re not going to receive the item you’ve purchased immediately, but with next day delivery being commonplace – and same day delivery becoming increasingly popular – in some instances you could have the item you bought on a Sunday evening in your hands within 12 hours.

And it’s when you consider this, you begin to see how much retail has changed due to digital.

Immediate and instant

In the last couple of years, next day delivery has become a common option for the majority of retailers, same day delivery has been introduced in numerous locations by a variety of sellers, and in some areas, you can even benefit from delivery within the hour.

Compare this to a few years prior.  Wanted to buy something online?  You were, generally speaking, going to have to wait a couple of days minimum.  But it wasn’t a huge issue – it was just one of those things you took into account when buying online.

As with many retail changes, however, a herd mentality ensues as soon as one takes advantage of an opportunity, with many others jumping on board.

Use the ‘next day delivery’ option as an example.  When was the last time you visited a website to buy something online and there wasn’t an option to pay for the product to be with you the next day?

I wanted to try and stay away from citing the online retail behemoth that is Amazon, but it’s hard not to mention them when we’re talking about delivery – their Prime service provides unlimited next day deliveries, at a one-off annual cost of just £79.

Now granted, at present you get access to the entire Prime video library (amongst other benefits) for your £79, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the not-too-distant future if one of two things happened:

  • The next day delivery aspect became a separate entity, or one that required an additional fee
  • The next day delivery aspect was removed, as Amazon incorporated it as their standard delivery option

If our requirement for quicker and more instant deliveries continues in the style it has, I can’t see Amazon not acting – they’re either going to capitalise on it by charging an additional premium for it (supplying the obvious demand), or they’re going to make it standard, and therefore once again satisfy the needs and meet the expectations of their ever-expanding audience.

It’s a never-ending circle

This view of Amazon’s potential future developments isn’t just taken out of thin air.  As with most things, evolution and development is visible in our delivery expectations and the services provided by retailers.  In fact, it’s a continuous circle.

The availability of quicker deliveries in whatever respect becomes available, so retailers offer it.  We as consumers try it, benefit from it and become accustomed to it.  We then want more of it and a developed version of it, so retailers look to offer it.  When they do, we again try it, benefit from it and become accustomed to it – and the circle starts again.

It’s a circle that never-ends.  It’s one that’s particularly quick-moving, too.  Such supply-demand-demand-supply circle is commonplace in business, but not to the extent it has happened with delivery.  We seem to have developed a need to have our products with us as quickly as possible, even though it was only a few years ago when ‘3 to 5 business days’ was the norm for shipping times.

What’s interesting to consider here is whilst digital has been the catalyst behind this development and increased our expectations of product availability and delivery, it’s also provided opportunities for companies to provide related services we didn’t even know we needed.

New opportunities

Take Deliveroo as an example.  Traditionally, if a restaurant didn’t deliver, we just took it as something that wasn’t offered and looked elsewhere.  It was a minor inconvenience at worst.

However, Deliveroo – a company that delivers food from some of your favourite restaurants – could soon mean we start to expect all restaurants to have some type of delivery method, whether that’s through Deliveroo or not.

Plus, it’s not just the delivery aspect that could become an issue, but the time – Deliveroo proudly state the average delivery takes just 32 minutes.  A restaurant may get a positive reception for offering delivery, but if Deliveroo have set the benchmark in terms of timing, will anything over this tarnish the positivity somewhat?

It might sound a little absurd to some, but the reality is, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t.  Take the scenario and put it into context against something that’s in place at the moment – if Asda, Tesco and Morrisons were all offering free next day delivery, but Sainsburys only offered delivery within 3 to 5 working days, irrelevant of the service they offered in general, your view of them would be negatively impacted on.

And where will services such as Deliveroo take our purchasing expectations? If the delivery aspects discussed become as ingrained in our daily lives as the ability to record TV on your digital box, watch programmes in HD or use fast mobile internet on the go, it wouldn’t be surprising if we got to the point in the foreseeable future where we’re preferring to print our own products on 3D printers rather than wait 24 hours for them to be delivered!

I genuinely love the world of digital and how it can impact on our lives.  It’s something I find completely fascinating, not only because it can transform how we go about our daily routines, but because it can revolutionise traditionally standard services – who would have thought the shipping and delivery industry would be so interesting?