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Friday, 17 March, 2000, 12:57 GMT
Can Lastminute deliver?

For Martha Lane Fox, Brent Hoberman, the media and thousands of small investors, it's been a week of hype, big money, and a fair amount of envy.

Martha has been all over the TV and newspapers, telling people that her company, Lastminute.com, is the real thing and not just in it for a quick buck.


Let us join in!
But the question which seems to have been overlooked is whether Lastminute.com is actually any good. In short, can it deliver?

We set a fairly simple task. At 0945 GMT on Thursday we decided to ask Lastminute.com to get a bottle of champagne to our west London offices by lunchtime. Three hours, we thought, that's 180 lastminutes.

What could be more impulsive than wanting an impromptu celebration for Martha and Brent's good fortune? And how better to celebrate than champagne?

Three hours was wishful thinking. In fact, Lastminute sets itself a more "realistic" target of five hours to deliver the bottle of bubbly anywhere within the capital "guaranteed", and three days for the rest of the UK.


Thursday 0945 - All set to make the order, credit card in hand
Our lunchtime drink was looking unlikely. Perhaps an after work celebration would be more appropriate anyway?

Of course the stopwatch couldn't start until the order was placed - something which itself took the best part of an hour.

Having selected the bottle - price 23.99 - filled out credit card and delivery details and clicked the "submit" button, the site hung for a good four minutes. Eventually, an error message popped up:

"The document contained no data. Try again later or contact the service administrator," it advised.

Having clicked "ok" and "submit" once again, it threw up a blank page. So had the order gone through or not? This cried out for verification, using Lastminute's online helpline.


1000 - A two-way chat with the helpdesk
After a short wait an operator took the "call". A stilted online exchange took place, but she could not access the order. Her advice: sit tight for an hour and if a confirmation e-mail did not arrive, try ordering again.

It's not the sort of advice one looks for when time is of the essence. What was going to happen to our celebrations?

The only other option was a call to the helpline. After negotiating the usual push button options and enduring a variety of recorded sales pitches from Miss Lane Fox herself, an operator took the call.

His advice was to wait 25 minutes for e-mail confirmation. By 1020 that confirmation had not arrived and so we tried once more. After going through the whole ordering process again, and clicking "submit" the site flashed up "You currently have nothing booked".


1013 - Resort to the telephone
Not so according to an e-mail which promptly landed in the in-box confirming the order had been placed.

So now everything was going smoothly? Were we back on track?

Alas no. Lunchtime came and went. By 1530, five hours after confirmation had been posted, the champagne was still "in transit".

By 1800 when most people were leaving the building to go home, there was sadly no champers to tempt them to stay. Maybe tomorrow night?


1530 - Five hours later and no champagne
Friday morning, a whole day after the order was placed, no delivery had come. So we made another call to the helpline. We spoke to an assistant, who rang us back 20 minutes later, saying the problem was being dealt with.

Then at 1100, Zoe rings to say Lastminute is investigating it with the delivery company. "Hopefully it can be delivered today," she says.

At 1140, Zoe rings again to say the company which supplies the champagne has mistakenly sent it out as a "within 24 hours" delivery rather than an immediate one.

It's gone flat
Thu 0945: Start ordering
Thu 1000: Get online help
Thu 1013: Get phone help
Thu 1030: Confirmation received
Thu 1530: Champagne not received
Fri 0945: Ring them again
Fri 1140: Lastminute apologises for mistake
Fri 1340: Champagne arrives. Now, where are those glasses?
We rang the company again, asking them for a comment for this article. Co-founder Brent Hoberman then rang back, apologising that we had not received our champagne, accepting responsibility, and saying that Lastminute would review its relationship with the champagne supplier.

We would also receive an extra gift to compensate, he said.

"I assure you we would do this for every customer. Not every one would get a phone call from me, but every customer would get something else from us," he said. "If ever mistakes are made, and I assure you they are very rare, we go the extra mile to make sure the customers know they are the most important part of the business."

Andy Rock, the boss of the champagne company, accepted it had been his company's mistake and not Lastminute's. We would be receiving two bottles for the price of one to make up for it.

Which is a satisfactory result for us, especially as the original bottle turned up at 1340.

If we had been needing the champagne for a real celebration on Thursday, one thought would have crossed our minds though.

"Forget the bubble, what about the bubbly?"

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See also:

02 Mar 00 | Business
Martha my very dear
15 Mar 00 | Business
Floating out of favour?
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