B2B International
B2B International

August 15, 2008

A recent house move has given Chrissie Hague, IT Support Manager, the ammunition to put pen to paper to write her first Thursday Night Insight post to highlight the complexity of service provider evaluation and selection.

I moved from the heart of bohemia to the extremes of suburbia.  From Didsbury, in inner city Manchester, to Mellor, on the edge of the Peak District. 

In Didsbury I had all my shopping needs on my doorstep.  24-hour Tesco, M&S Food and the Co-op, all within strolling distance.  Day-to-day needs were satisfied by all and I switched between the three without any thought.  Running out of the staples – milk, bread and queen green olives stuffed with guacamole and feta was never a problem.

Then a culture shock – I moved to Mellor.  In Mellor, I struggled for the basics.   You can’t even get a paper on a Saturday morning, never mind trying to satisfy my olive fetish!  The quality of what was on offer fared no better.  The only milk I could find was sour.  And before unwrapping my 3-year-old’s weekly toy treat, I had to shovel the dust off the wrapper like snow from the car! (The shops here don’t cater for a demographic under 60, never mind 3 year old children!).  The weekly shop did not lift the gloom.  The only option was the Co-op – teaming with blue rinse, poorly stocked shelves and checkout queues the length of airport security.

It was getting me down to say the least but I adapted.  I got a milk man and invested in a bread machine.  But there was still no alternative to the dreaded Co-op.  If I could just find a replacement for the weekly shop I could enjoy my new idyllic rural life.  Then it happened.  My daughter Lily shouted “there’s the egg van!”  The egg van turned out to be Sainsbury’s internet home delivery service which was soon followed up the lane by Tesco and Ocado equivalents.  I (or rather Lily) had discovered online grocery shopping.

Ocado was the first store I signed up to and it was brilliant.  The website was fast, responsive and intuitive. There were no annoying pop-up windows, it was well thought out and the navigation clear and uncluttered.  There were lots of nice touches, like receiving discounts for delivery by selecting a slot when the van was in the local area.  A courtesy call ten minutes before arrival to say they are on their way.  Arrival on time – I’m used to waiting all day for a gas man/fridge delivery, etc. that never comes!  A helpful, friendly, polite driver who was informed enough to recognise it was my first time (I instantly felt valued).  And, to top it all, the goods were sorted into colour-coded bags indicating freezer, fridge or cupboard.  This was shopping heaven – I swore undying loyalty to Ocado.

A week passed by and it was time for another order.  But to my frustration Ocado didn’t deliver on a Sunday and our fridge was bare.  I almost felt a slight twinge of guilt for considering another provider but “needs must” and Ocado didn’t satisfy them.    It was time to try another store.  First I tried Tesco.  Again the interface was fine and I was drawn to the gimmicky ‘quick shop’ feature.  Great I thought…Ocado but quicker.  I went to crisps first but this generated a huge text list with no images.  I scrolled through the pages desperately trying to find Seabrook’s but gave up on page 5 with a headache (I had never realised pictures were so important in shopping)!  At this point I gave up and made a conscious decision never to use Tesco online again (now I was getting fussy). 

It was time to try another.  I signed up to Sainsbury’s.  An instant perk was the loyalty scheme (being able to collect loyalty points was a bonus not offered at Ocado).  The site followed a similar format to Ocado’s.  It was easy to navigate and included bright and enticing images of the products.   The product range was excellent (better than Ocado) and even offered fresh bread (not available at Ocado).  The delivery arrived on time and it made Lily’s day when she saw the “apple van” on the drive!  I was a happy customer.

The moral of this story is that this experience has made me recognise the complexities of the service provider selection process.   Even a simple shopping task triggered several evaluation criteria, which on reflection were unique to me (and many of which I was previously unaware of).  On the face of it all providers seemed the same, but in reality it was those subtle differences (e.g. delivery days, loyalty points, fresh bread, etc.) that proved decisive. 

The difficulty for any business is to recognise and understand these differences, though understand them they must in order to survive. The difficulty for us as a market research company is to provide this understanding to serve our clients.  It’s at times like this that I am thankful to be part of the IT team at B2B and not one of the researchers who have to deal with these complexities on a daily basis.