Monday, April 29, 2013

New Postal Calculator

What a long day. Its been a long time since I have sat still for so long and I'm exhausted!

Today was the day I set aside to add the hundred or so new products we've taken on since I last added to our online shop. For months now our online shoppers have been missing out on some fabulous new lines. And today I planned to remedy that. But first things first, I needed to fix the postage costs. As a consumer I always resented the high postage charges incurred with relatively small online purchases. So when I set up the online deli I weighed every single item for sale so that the web site could estimate how much it really would cost to post something and charge the customers that price. It is not 100% accurate. Once packaged some combinations of products weigh less than expected, some more. The model I use to estimate the weight of the packaging is regularly tweaked and I keep a record of the packed and unpacked weight of every parcel I send so I can use the data to create better models in the future.

The postage calculator was working nicely, until this month, when Royal Mail dramatically changed their pricing structure.  Not only does weight effet the price, but size as well, and the standard parcel service no longer exists. Even the post office staff aren't quite sure how the new system works.  I sent the same item on two different days, one day it was a "Medium Parcel" another it was a "Small Parcel" (as even though it was too tall for the measuring slot it got a special exception!).  I carried on charging my old prices for a while whilst I worked it all out. But it needed to be changed. I was charging £2.20 for second class post for items which now cost me £5.20 to send! And so came about today's little project.

Sadly it wasn't so little. Involving weighing, and measuring, and a few formula. I felt like I was back at school attempting some huge homework project! Our online shop now offers ELEVEN different postage services (if you include "collect from shop").
  • Royal Mail First Class Standard "Small Parcel" (only available for small items costing less than £20) and Royal Mail First Class Confirmed "Small Parcel" (aka Signed For) (only available for small items costing more than £20)
  • Royal Mail First Class Standard "Medium Parcel" (only available for items costing less than £20) and Royal Mail First Class Confirmed "Medium Parcel" (aka Signed For) (only available for items costing more than £20)
  • Royal Mail Second Class Standard "Small Parcel" (only available for small items costing less than £20) and Royal Mail Second Class Confirmed "Small Parcel" (aka Signed For) (only available for small items costing more than £20)
  • Royal Mail Second Class Standard "Medium Parcel" (only available for items costing less than £20) and Royal Mail Second Class Confirmed "Medium Parcel" (aka Signed For) (only available for items costing more than £20)
  • Royal Mail Special Delivery next day.
I did add the Special Delivery 9am service as well, but removed that when I saw how many exceptions there were and how long my description would need to be to explain it all. We will still offer the service, but customers will need to contact us first to check their area is covered. I hope that is less off-putting than the list of postcodes where the service isn't available.

The Royal Mail services are now quite a lot more expensive for the sort of parcels we send a lot of. Our most commonly used service was the (less than 2kg) Standard Parcel at £5.30. The closest equivalent service is now £9.10. So I've also added an economical courier service, collect+. I anticipated this might be necessary and have been offering the service to those who ordered by telephone over the past few months. We've not experienced any problems.

Needless to say it has been a lengthy process. I'm already aware of products which won't be in the right shipping category.  Royal Mail will class up to six packs of spring roll wrappers as a "small parcel", but my model will class two or more as a "medium parcel" and some teabags which the model says are a "small parcel" but will actually be a "medium parcel".  I'll take a hit on the tea bags and am working on a discount code built into bulk purchases of spring roll wraps to compensate for the postage cost.

But seeing as I have spent an entire sunny day tapping away at my computer, have not added a single new product to the online deli , I think it might be time to call it a day. If anyone out there wants to buy any of the wonderful new products you've seen on our facebook page, but can't find in the online shop, please just email me!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bim's Kitchen Tasting

On Saturday 4th May, Bim will be venturing out of Bim's Kitchen and coming here, to Tastes Delicatessen in Eton with samples of his African inspired sauces and pickles for you to try. If you've never eaten anything with baobab fruit, alligator pepper, melon seeds or cubeb in, now is your chance.

A Story About Beans

Once upon a time (possibly this morning) a regular customer, lets call him Greg (because that's his name), fancied baked beans on toast. He visited his local delicatessen (lets call it Tastes Deli). But to Greg's dismay they don't sell baked beans at his local delicatessen.

They do sell plain haricot-type beans, alubia blanca, from El Navarrico in Spain. And they are pretty special beans: deliciously smooth and creamy. They also sell tinned cherry tomatoes from Mutti in Italy. And they are pretty special tomatoes: little bursts of sweetness.

Greg bought the beans, and the tomatoes, and a loaf of bread and took them home. He warmed some oil, fried some red onion and garlic, added a little dried chilli, a little ground celery seed, a pinch of herbes de provence, the tinned tomatoes (with their juice) and the drained beans. He made his own baked beans.

Greg liked them so much he took a portion (still warm) back to the deli for the shop keeper to try. The shop keeper liked them so much she almost ate them all before taking a photograph. Fresh, bright and creamy. Greg makes very good baked beans.

The end.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Three Rs

We're big fans of the three Rs - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. With the help of our suppliers we're doing pretty well. Top priority is reducing packaging waste. We work with suppliers who collect their packaging on subsequent deliveries (some even wait while we unpack and take it immediately). Others who send goods by courier allow us post packaging back to them. It requires a bit of storage space to hold empty boxes from one week to the next, but most of our packaging is given back to the supplier in this way, and so our packaging waste is significantly reduced.

When it comes to reuse, much of our packaging has plenty of life left in it. Small boxes are reused to send out orders from our online shop, plastic tubs which are used for olives, can also be used for scotch eggs etc. The vast majority of our large cardboard boxes are reused (often more than once) by people moving house. As is our bubble wrap, packing chips and air cushions. Our veg trays are much in demand in the autumn when they become apple stores, and in the spring they are used at car boot sales.

As for recycling what is left, we've been getting pretty inventive! I've been turning the mini wooden pallets which protect the brie in transit into stakes to label my vegetables, and the jars of pesto into lanterns and vases! One local brownie pack took 50 wooden brie boxes last year - I'd love to see what they made out of them!

If you want any free packaging materials, bubble wrap, boxes etc do contact me and I'll put aside whatever you want. If you want to make your own plant stakes all you need is a saw, sandpaper/file, woodfiller (optional) and two colours of exterior wood paint. And some Brie pallets, which I am more than happy to supply.

How to make plant stakes: 
  1. Pull staples out of brie box so you have small planks of rough sawn timber.
  2. Use a saw to cut one end of each plank into a point.
  3. (Optionally) fill the staple holes with wood filler to stop the rain getting in and rotting the stakes.
  4. Sand any rough edges.
  5. Paint with exterior wood paint.
  6. Add plant name. I painted these with more exterior wood paint, but you could write them on which would be much quicker.

    Tuesday, April 02, 2013

    Easter Egg-travaganza

    It's been a busy bank holiday weekend here in Eton. The Eton Traders got together to hold an Easter Egg Hunt (with lettered eggs hidden in shop windows which spelt out a secret phrase), the Easter Bunny was out and about giving out vouchers for a free chocolate treat and Ildiko's Chocolates were at Tastes Delicatessen offering samples of their amazing chocolates. The weather wasn't exactly on our side, but it only snowed a little bit, for a little while, and by Monday afternoon the sun was shining.

    Despite the bitter cold, everyone was in holiday spirit. The chocolate tasting was a huge success.  Delicious chocolate, beautifully hand decorated with fruits, nuts and flowers. What's not to like? Children were rushing up to the shop window all weekend shouting "B" (the letter on the egg I had hidden as part of the hunt). Adults also took part in the hunt, but were more restrained with their excitement! The Easter Bunny had children squealing in delight and adults clamouring for photographs.  In my role as Bunny's assistant on Monday I even got to see the changing of the guard at Windsor Castle for the first time! Now I know what the visitors see after I give them directions to the castle. My view was slightly obscured by the 6 foot white rabbit, but that made it even more memorable.

    I hope everyone who visited Eton this weekend, went home with some lovely memories (along with their free Easter treat!).

    Seasonal events are taking place in Eton throughout the year. For more information take a look at the Visit Eton facebook page.