How to keep online customers happy with the delivery of their orders

By: Jerry Kane

This article looks at how online retailers and parcel carriers can work together to keep online customers happy.

As an active participant in the development of home delivery services for over 15 years, I have listened to the same conversations and presentations at industry events which have generally revolved around the theme of how retailers, parcel delivery companies and customers can happily and sustainably get what they need from online retail.

This theme inevitably descends into a debate about “free delivery” and how and where the true cost of delivery should be recovered. I will resist the temptation to repeat this as it has been done many times. Instead, I would like to make a more constructive claim; I am convinced that we now have all the tools we need to keep online customers happy with the delivery of their orders.

Generally we are over the fact that home delivery is a surprise or something that B2B operations are struggling to accommodate. Even though there has been significant consolidation in the parcel delivery industry over the last ten years, there has never been a more diverse range of service options available to retailers. Customers however do not always get the benefit of this diversity.

The development, emergence and acceptance of click and collect and locker box networks has made operators more efficient and improved customer convenience. Most of the national parcel carriers have home delivery services that have been developed with todays online customer in mind, using ETW (estimated time window) text messages and emails to reduce the amount time the customer has to wait in for their order.

Building on this now generic capability, some of the more advanced operators are now offering “bookable” timeslots (similar to online grocery delivery) which enable online customers to get their orders at a time convenient to them.

It has to be said that the grocery home delivery operations have led the way in customer experience including the notoriously difficult doorstep compliance and customer interaction challenges. No doubt that the retail culture, training and overall investment in people has set the benchmark with many of the two-man delivery service providers also achieving some great results in this area.

The challenge of scaling

Of course, the pureplay retailers have closer ties to how delivery benefits and challenges can define their customer experience, because it is a bigger part of it, but bricks and mortar retailers have in-store standards and experiences to try and replicate or least emulate as closely as possible.

This is where the challenges really start to come alive as very few retailers have the scale to provide their own in-house services so are largely reliant on a shared user parcel delivery network. Tech driven intelligent use of these networks can provide market leading solutions when combined with other service features.

The scale of many online retailer’s channels and diversity of products and customer types mean that the technology needs to be easy to use, comprehensive and flexible and visible to the customer only in the benefits that that it brings.

With Argos and Amazon now offering same-day services, the gauntlet has been thrown down to the rest of retail to respond. Again, ALL the tools are there; national service providers, store networks, technology and subject matter expertise.

It is probable that this will become another retail battleground, where proximity and availability alone will be nothing without the tech and delivery services to keep the customer happy.

In all cases, it is not just the general service provision that online customers will remember, it is also the small things that make a big difference; relevant choice of services AND carriers during checkout, timeliness and tone of communications, doorstep (customer) experience, sensible leave safe locations and easy access to tracking and proof of delivery information.

What’s stopping us?

So if all the tools are there, what is stopping us providing consumers with online retail delivery nirvana?

  1. We need to work together in a genuinely collaborative cross-functional way. The winning retailers understand the relationship between the right logistics choices and growth of a profitable ecommerce channel. The “front-end” and “back end” of each business working together with the IT function to gain and retain online retail customers.
  2. Embrace the right services AND technology. There has never been so much choice available, but the key to success is presenting the customer with the right choices at the right time in the sales and operational process. If you understand what your customers want, the service and technology tools are already there to meet and exceed those expectations
  3. Continuous improvement. The customers’ expectations will continue to rise, and if those expectations are not being met, they will (in many cases) chose to shop with a retailer that will meet them. The process of ensuring you have the optimum online retail logistics set-up is not a one-off event, it is something that requires regular if not constant attention.

The occasional radical and innovative idea grabs the headlines, but we also need to make the most of the opportunities we already have before us.

To that end I would encourage active dialogue and as many workshops, round tables as possible between the retailers, parcel carriers and technology enablers.

UK online retail shows no signs of slowing down and customers are more sophisticated and connected than ever before, so getting this right will be make or break for some organisations. In any event it is a differentiator and a competitive advantage. It needs to be prioritised more than it has been over the last few years

We all have a vested interest in getting this right, because we are not just retailers, or logisticians, or techies, we are also customers who want what we want, when we want it.  

We can make this happen.


By: Jerry Kane - Sales and Marketing Director at Hypaship

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