So you decide you want to get milk delivered to your doorstep. Like how it used to be in the good old days.
How do you go about it then? Well the first thing to do is pop on Find Me A Milkman and see who delivers to your area.
The biggest of the companies in the milk delivery market is Dairy Crest – the former processing arm of the Milk Marketing Board, which now also includes the former Unigate and Express Dairies operations and have a rather hefty website – labelled as milk&more. On it, you can create your regular orders, ask for extra items and pay your bill. Yes, doorstep milk delivery has gone modern.
I’d been enticed to try milk&more following a leaflet delivered to the house (a rare example of such leaflets working for me), and as it turns out if you want milk delivered round my way, it’s Dairy Crest or no one else.
The first thing to do was see if and when they actually deliver to your area. Shove in your postcode and you’re away. Or at least, your away if the data has been uploaded to the website. Clearly I was the first person in our area to use the service as I got told they had to check with the local depot to see who my milkman was, and when he delivered.
Not the best start. Once the data is in the system, you can go pretty much straight away. If my neighbour decides to get milk delivered, they will get told instantly that the milkman is Aubrey Cullen, and he delivers three days a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Unfortunately I had to wait three days for that information. A better solution would have been to preload all the delivery data into the website, but clearly someone took the decision not to.
Anyway, on the same page, if you are in a delivery area, they invite you to register, with a form inviting you to enter the usual collection of name, address, telephone number, email and new password. Once that’s done (and they’ve got your delivery details if they need to) you’re ready to order.
The website is what you’d expect – it’s an online shopping website. You can set up regular orders, customising what you want delivered on each day. As we normally go through around four pints a week, I opted for one one pint on Monday and Wednesday, two on Friday – organic semi-skimmed if you must know. As well as regular orders, you can do one off deliveries if you need to add something, or indeed if you don’t want a regular item one day.
As the name suggests, it’s not just milk that’s available. Milkmen have always carried a collection of items like bread, orange juice and yoghurt, but the milk&more range is like a milkman on corner shop on wheels. Dairy products are naturally well represented, but so too is bacon, coffee, muesli bars, bottles of Pepsi, kitchen rolls, laundry products, mixed vegetable boxes and even compost. Yes, your milkman can deliver a 40 litre bag of peat free compost, or 75 litres of ornamental bark for you. My mind boggled the first time I spotted that one, but as I don’t have a car, it’s a tempting option for the spring, and far easier than trying to carry some compost back from my nearby DIY store.
The website itself has a bizarre love of popups – clicking on the products tab gives a list of headings, and opening any of them results in a popup. Thankfully only one popup rather than multiple ones, however it’s an odd method for a relatively new website. Most research shows people get confused, lost or annoyed by the popups, and frankly I can see no real reason why the ordering has to be done that way rather than full screen.
Also odd is that there are no descriptions of any of the items – you just get a name. All items do have a little “i” logo next to the name, which provides something like “In glass bottles” if you hover over it, but it’s extremely unintuitive, and no use at all if you can’t keep your mouse steady over the small logo. I use a Wacom tablet myself, and tooltips like that are next to impossible because holding a stylus completely still is nigh on impossible. Worse still, when you do manage it, you mostly get told “No product information available at this time”
Thankfully the name is usually an obvious description – you know what you’re getting with “Bumper Box Broken Biscuits 1.3kg” for example, however in some cases the title is no use at all. If you don’t know what “Petits Filous Frubes” means, you’ve no chance of finding out, and you have to wonder how many people will be buying the “Gift Pack 2009” because you have absolutely no way to find out other than by spending £6.99 (or finding out in the news section of the website – it’s a “Dairy Diary Address book, Dairy Diary, Mini Diary and pen” apparently.)
There’s also two special pages – one marked “Your holidays” where you can tell your milkman that you’re away so don’t deliver anything – you can do this for any delivery day in the next two months.
There’s also a link marked “Your Seasonal Orders”, although what does is beyond me as it just opens up a pretty desolate and mostly empty popup with no way to add anything to it, and nothing displayed. There is, incidentally, no help section or FAQ to explain it for you.
But besides those niggles, the process works smoothly. I ordered our milk and there it was the next day. Unfortunately it was a pint of organic skimmed, but that was because I’d picked the wrong one by mistake. Two days later, the semi-skimmed started rolling in.
At this point, you might notice that I haven’t paid for anything yet – payment is actually made retrospectively – you get an invoice every couple of weeks where you pay for what you’ve bought. You are not asked to give a credit card number or anything in advance, and therefore there’s no need for that big ritual of milk delivery – pretending to be out when the milkman coes for his money! You just get an email inviting you to pay, and this is done online, via credit card. Oddly and sadly there’s no method for storing credit card details, or to make automatic payments – crazy given that you’ll be paying on a monthly basis.
Still it all works, even if it’s not hugely efficient or, to be frank, obvious at times. The whole thing could easily confuse and disorientate people – especially when what they order is so simple.
But perhaps what’s saddest is what modern technology means we lose. The rituals of milk delivery seem to disappear. Modern double glazing has already got rid of being woken up by the clank of milk bottles being delivered, but thanks to the internet there’s now no need to speak your milkman, no need to even pass him little notes, rolled up in an empty bottle asking for “One pint extra please!”. You just do it all online and never speak to a soul. I’m sure I could leave a note, but knowing my luck it would get stuck in the bottle and unreadable…