E-Delivery businesses trying to box clever in home-orders arena

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The Independent Online

The battle of the e-commerce home delivery boxes is shaping up to be quite a crowded affair. The recent E-Delivery Expo exhibition at Olympia, in London, featured no fewer than eight companies attempting to solve the problem of how to deliver e-commerce orders to consumers when they are not at home. All are essentially big boxes that either sit outside consumers' house or can be located in garages. And all the firms are desperately seeking their first big commercial break - a deal with a major supermarket.

The battle of the e-commerce home delivery boxes is shaping up to be quite a crowded affair. The recent E-Delivery Expo exhibition at Olympia, in London, featured no fewer than eight companies attempting to solve the problem of how to deliver e-commerce orders to consumers when they are not at home. All are essentially big boxes that either sit outside consumers' house or can be located in garages. And all the firms are desperately seeking their first big commercial break - a deal with a major supermarket.

One company that appears to have made some progress in this direction is Home Delivery Access, an 18 month old company behind the "Delivery Point" scheme (www.deliverypoint.co.uk). The concept consists of a push button console that controls access to the "safe" location the customer has chosen for their shopping. This could be a box outside the house or simply a console attached to a garage with a fridge/freezer inside. The cost is £300 to the consumer though Home Delivery Access hopes to persuade suppliers such as courier companies and grocers to cover the cost in return for securing the loyalty of the customer.

Delivery Point's literature says: "Tesco.com, Iceland, Comet ... and Interflora, are just a few of the household names already using delivery point." However, Tesco denies this and Iceland says it is not currently using the system either.

It is difficult to say if this is due to wishful thinking or because the supermarkets don't want rivals to know what trials they are running.

Tesco claims it has yet to see the value of delivery boxes, though it has been approached by every e-commerce entrepreneur in town. Its point is that 10-20 per cent of the items in some of its orders need to be substituted because they are not available. It wants its delivery staff to meet the customer on the doorstep to ensure they are happy with the changes that have been made. Simply dumping the stuff in a box on the doorstep only to come back later to handle a complaint is no good, it says.

Even so, delivery point claims putting its consoles on garages offers the best sales prospect with 9.6m garages in the UK. It also hopes to put its boxes into the walls of newly built homes. Its target is to install its product in 3 per cent of the 144,000 new homes built in the UK every year.

So far the only box company with a firm link with a major grocer is Homeport whose system is being tested by Sainsbury's in 25 households in London. Homeport is launching a fund-raising exercise for a further £7.5m to back its aim of installing 20,000 Homeport boxes in and around London. Its longer term aim is for 1.5m installed boxes by 2005.

However, a system launched last week hopes to add its name to the list. Deleport is the brainchild of a thermal engineering and heat transfer firm, Darchem Engineering. Its big blue boxes include eutectic plates that maintain low temperatures, for frozen or chilled goods for up to 12 hours without any power. The cost will be £250 for each box, which is opened with a pin-numbered keypad.

Deleport claims to have had "a nibble" of interest from Sainsbury's with Tesco its next target. Its aim is to sell 10,000 units in its first year.

Full-frontal assault from Travelocity.com

Are these the most irritating dot.com adverts currently running? The posters advertising Travelocity.com, the US-owned travel site certainly go for the full-frontal assault. One strapline reads: "In the great scheme of things, you're work is meaningless and you'll die having achieved relatively comparatively little.... You need a holiday." Another states: "Never forget, you are just a tiny cog in a huge relentless machine." Why would anyone choose to give custom to a company that has just called them a sad loser whose life and job are a waste of space?

It is amusing that the ad agency responsible for this head-butting campaign is St Luke's, a touchy-feely, right-on, co-operatively owned agency where the staff are allowed to while away their working hours playing table football and shooting pool. St Luke's says the idea of the ads is to grab the attention of the busy underground traveller and get people thinking about the way they lead their lives. The germ of the idea came to the agency last summer when there was a lot of publicity surrounding the length of British working hours. One study showed 60 per cent of Britons fail to take their annual holiday allowance and receive no additional cash in return.

St Luke's ("we actually work long hours but only through choice") claims consumers are supposed to take the aggressive tone with a pinch of salt. It also claims it has not received any complaints.

Give it time.

n.cope@independent.co.uk

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