Startup general interest

On Marks and Spencer’s ecommerce ops and legal disclaimers

By August 22, 2010 November 4th, 2010 No Comments

A couple of weeks back I ordered two jumpers from Marks & Spencer’s website. I have to say that it has been a pretty frustrating process from start to finish, or rather almost finish, because I haven’t got them yet.

The annoyances:

  • the jumpers weren’t in stock 3-4 months ago when I first tried to order them – disappointing as they are a bog standard item
  • I could only ship to my billing address – usually I bill to home and ship to the office
  • delivery took 2-3 weeks
  • I only got notified of delivery the day before and was given a twelve hour window

All of this is way off market in my opinion.  I post it here to give hope to pure play ecommerce businesses who are competing with traditional retailers who have recently opened up a web operation.  It is surprising how poor many of these companies are when it comes to ecommerce.

There was one final annoyance, which is what resulted in me writing this blog post.  The email they sent announcing the delivery  contained the following sentence:

Please note, this email indicates our acceptance of your offer to purchase the above .

Very kind of them to ‘accept my offer to purchase’, I’m sure you would agree.

I’m guessing a lawyer told them to put that in the email. I can’t believe anyone else who would think it was a good idea. If I’m right and it was a lawyer then this is an example of a decision to mitigate an un-quantified legal risk at the expense of the customer experience.

I make this point because decisions like this should be made following a cost benefit analysis, rather than simply because a risk is there (unquantified).  When ecommerce companies decide how big to make their delivery windows they typically undertake a cost benefit analysis weighing up the extra cost of offering a smaller window against:

  • the loss of business they would suffer from people deciding not to shop because the window is too big,
  • the cost of the increased number of failed deliveries that comes with a big window, and
  • the impact of increasing the delivery charge.

In my experience legal risks are rarely subjected to this sort of analysis.  Rather, it is common for a legal risk to be postulated, a potentially massive loss or impact discussed, but then little attempt be made to assess the likelihood of the risk materialising. It is then a brave executive who sticks their neck out and decides to take that risk when the alternative is to incur a small ongoing cost – be it real expense or a general worsening of the customer experience.

I think the world would be a better place if we all made more effort to quantify legal risks and were more supportive of executives who advocate accepting some legal exposure in order to advance their other business goals.