With brands and retailers focused on driving online sales, the shipping of those purchases can sometimes be an afterthought. But Bruce Fair, CRO at e-commerce solution Metapack, warns against complacency in this area, particularly as the holiday season dawns, because logistics networks are likely to be more strained than ever, as are the risks of poor fulfillment.
“There has never been a more important time for retailers to be evaluating their shipping options,” said Fair. “April, May and June saw online sales volumes break records while carriers struggled to cope with the surge in demand. Even now, they’re still struggling to control the backlog of deliveries.”
Shipping expectations are usually tied to speed and cost, with consumers expecting fast and free delivery. Although consumers have relaxed their standards on the former, according to multiple studies, there is still a risk that fulfillment will be significantly delayed due to overburdened carriers. Additionally, many carriers are beginning to add surcharges to delivery, due to the additional strain on their networks.
The risks of not providing a comprehensive and efficient shipping service are high. A Metapack consumer survey found that 55% of Americans have reported purchasing from one retailer over another, due to the larger range of shipping options available. Almost 40% stated that a single bad delivery experience could put them off a retailer altogether. This means that merchants risk both current and future revenue, if their fulfillment is unreliable.
“At the moment, retailers have been focused on easing their backlog and trying to get packages delivered out of their warehouses and onto porches — and not on investing ahead of the holiday peak season,” said Fair. “It’s critical that retailers are focused on future unplanned challenges. Retailers need to be investing in a multi-carrier strategy and working with a scalable technology partner that allows them to continue operating at whichever level is required.”
By diversifying their fulfillment across multiple carriers, retailers can safeguard the bulk of their orders — even if one partner network is temporarily obstructed. No merchant can eliminate any possibility of disruption, especially during the higher-volume shipping periods, but the ones that minimize their risk are likely to see positive responses from consumers.
Fair also recommends that retailers support their fulfillment service with consumer-oriented offerings, like the ability to track packages. Metapack found that two-thirds of shoppers rank package tracking as one of their top three considerations when buying a product. Not only can tracking reassure customers about the location of their item, if it is delayed, but this visibility can also help decrease the number of customer service calls a retailer receives.
“Every time a retailer receives a customer care call, it costs them money,” said Fair. “[With tracking], retailers also have a valuable opportunity to continue the conversation with their customers. Sending a customer to a carrier website to track their delivery, more often than not leads to a confusing and bad experience. Simplified tracking with marketing opportunities for retailers is the future and an area that retailers need to invest in.”
Returns are a similar component of the post-purchase experience that can trip up retailers. Retailers should ensure that their shipping infrastructure supports a clear and easy returns system, with service options that include multiple drop-off locations or carrier choices. Online portals to manage returns are also valuable: Not only is this more convenient for the customer, but it provides greater visibility into the returns system, allowing retailers to get ahead on processing refunds and warehouse inventory.