The latest research from Which? will make concerning reading for many retailers. Over a quarter of consumers surveyed by the consumer champion said they had experienced a problem with the delivery of at least one online purchase made in the last 12 months. With almost a third of customers associating bad delivery with the brand they ordered from, irrespective of who made the delivery, there is often a reputational cost to add to the significant financial cost of handling delivery problems.
This also means, however, that there is a real opportunity for retailers to gain a competitive advantage focusing on how they can maintain and improve both the convenience and flexibility of their delivery options.
Flexible delivery is the immediate priority for a retailer looking to improve their delivery offering. This means allowing customers to choose from different speeds of delivery, so that a customer can buy a dress for a night out that weekend or a t-shirt for a concert at short notice. They should also be able to schedule deliveries for the days and times that suit them – to do this effectively retailers should work with a variety of carriers so that they can choose the appropriate provider to fulfil each order.
They should also work with carriers to provide as much information as possible before the parcel arrives. This doesn’t just have benefits from a customer service perspective; it also adds a level of reassurance that could help to attract more sales. A study by Royal Mail found that that 73% of people said they would feel more confident shopping online when this option is available. Establishing effective channels of communication with the customer will also enable carriers to flag any delays to the expected delivery time by text message or email.
A missed delivery does not have to be a missed opportunity, and retailers can build in alternative delivery locations to ensure that customers always receive the parcel on their own terms. This could mean utilising collection lockers such as those at train stations. As always, convenience and flexibility are what customers look for.
Returns are another important consideration, particularly in fashion where returns from online sales are at their highest and were estimated to have cost retailers £1.16bn last year. Retailers cannot isolate these channels and need to look at online purchase, delivery and return as a single, smooth process.
Another key thing to remember is that the job doesn’t end once the deliver has been made successfully. Getting feedback both from customers and carriers is vital to maintaining quality of service and to understanding how delivery processes can be further tailored to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers. To be competitive retailers should seek as much feedback as possible and look to constantly improve routes, return rates and customer satisfaction.
In the e-commerce era, retailers’ brands extend further than ever. This means that often the lasting impression of a retailer will come from how and when the latest order is placed in the customer’s hands. Retailers need to examine every step of the delivery journey, offer flexible options and really listen to their customers if they want to attract new customers and ensure their existing ones remain loyal.