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GUEST COMMENT Delivery delays and shipping setbacks: how retailers can build resilience

Image: Monkey Business/Shutterstock
Elissa Quinby, senior director, retail marketing at Quantum Metric

As the cost of living continues to rise, consumers are becoming increasingly frugal. To combat this, retailers have been busy focusing their efforts on cutting costs. However, they now face another challenge – carrier disruption.

While arguably it’s consumers who are directly impacted by postal disturbances, in the long-term, the biggest impact is on retailer’s profit. Customer frustration can be detrimental to merchants, leading to a rise in the demand of costly returns, a drop in retention and loss of loyalty. 

In light of the news that even more strikes may affect Royal Mail services around key upcoming retail dates including Black Friday and Cyber Monday, retailers must put methods in place to ensure as little chaos is caused as possible. Broadening shipping partnerships, promoting hybrid shopping, offering real-time customer alerts and adjusting return policies can help brands remain resilient.

Hybrid shopping: the best of both worlds

In May 2020, the demand for Click and collect, also known as ‘buy online pickup in store’ (BOPIS), increased by more than a whopping 554% – likely due to Covid-19 restrictions. Despite all restrictions now being lifted, this shopping method remains popular, with more than a third of consumers (36%) regularly buying products online and picking them up at a store.

Why? Click and collect is fast, convenient and reliable, eliminating the risk of missed deliveries. What’s more, for retailer’s, hybrid shopping is far more cost-effective method than shipping products plus, it drives both online and foot traffic. A win-win. 

If more shoppers depend on click and collect orders, retailers can cut back on their shipping dependence and limit the impact of any carrier disruptions. Some ways retailers can encourage hybrid shopping during periods of carrier disruption include offering personalised deals and discounts, unique perks via loyalty programmes, or cutting fulfilment time to hours rather than days.

However, as in-store traffic rises, it’s vital to take an omnichannel approach to customer insights by understanding how the digital experience (DX) translates in the brick-and-mortar shop. Just examining online customer journey metrics can be deceiving. While they may look strong, that doesn’t necessarily mean the in-store experience is up to scratch. For example, if shoppers are forced to face long click-and-collect queues once arriving at the store, they’re unlikely to use the service again, even if their DX was shopping experience is smooth from beginning to end, online and in-store. 

Diversifying shipping options

It’s essential that merchants partner with multiple shipping carriers if they are to avoid disruptions. By depending on a single source to ship all products, retailers run the risk of delivery stopping altogether if their carrier partner encounters issues. Broadening shipping options gives retailers increased flexibility and mitigates risk. 

As an alternative to traditional third-party shipping services, retailers can also invest in their own outbound logistics. This not only gives them more control over the delivery process, but it also creates a new revenue stream.

Real-time alerts are key

Data from Quantum Metric’s recent benchmarking survey revealed that 67% of Brits have had at least one package ‘ghosted’ – severely delayed or lost – in the last year. This means that, no matter which shipping partner retailers choose, there’s still always a chance customers will experience frustrations.

As such, it’s important that merchants keep in contact with their shoppers, even after they’ve completed their purchase. Brands that take responsibility for communicating delivery timelines via email or SMS and alert shoppers about all activity from sale to delivery build far more trust from their customers. This communication is simple but effective – helping people feel more informed which minimises frustration and can help cultivate long-term loyalty.

Reactive returns

Shipping issues can also significantly disrupt returns and, as ecommerce sales go up, so do the volume of returns via mail. When faced with potential carrier disruptions, brands can implement ways to ensure they’re getting their goods back in a timely manner while minimising the burden on the customer & shipping partners. 

For example, retailers can extend return windows to provide more time for customers to prepare their shipment and drop off at a carrier. In addition, they could offer an altered refund policy such as allowing shoppers to pick a different product at a discounted price or even allowing them to keep certain items that would be more costly to ship back.

As the number of people shopping online increases, so does the number of people relying on delivery services. As such, it’s becoming more and more important for retailers to be prepared for any carrier disruptions. By combining alternative shipping providers, improved customer communication, omni-channel experiences and differing returns processes retailers can not only protect themselves but also gain a competitive edge. 

Elissa Quinby is senior director, retail marketing at Quantum Metric

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