Shoppers want to feel special, they are looking for that dopamine rush that comes from a great retail experience. This is not a new phenomenon, yet in recent years many retail businesses have put too much emphasis on appealing to a wide demographic, focusing on providing aggressive offers and prices. Whilst this provides an incentive to buy, and a short-term fillip, does it create that special feeling?
In the online space, retailers have invested in functionality to get shoppers to the checkout, but this has meant that much less thought has been given to what comes next in the customer’s shopping journey – and the conclusion of the experience that delivers the retail ‘hit’.
What retailers and their delivery partners must remember is that “a promise isn’t a promise until it’s fulfilled”. In the world of multiple online and offline retail touchpoints, it’s unrealistic to think that a disjointed experience across different touchpoints of a customer journey won’t impact a shopper’s impression of a brand, both in terms of delivery and return. You cannot dress up a fundamentally poor or incomplete service – the initial expectation has to be delivered by a compelling fulfilment solution.
If retailers don’t provide a good service at the first time of asking when it comes to delivery, then the customer is absolutely within their rights to dump the retailer and look elsewhere for a company which they feel will provide a better overall experience. This transience is one of the defining features of the model retail relationship, and one that should not be compromised by a final service that has been optimised for cost, rather than alignment with the overall retail proposition.
Delivery is, therefore, a vital component in the efforts of a retailer to differentiate their brand in an increasingly crowded and frequently undifferentiated market. Yet price wars have meant less investment, undermining a retailer’s aim of providing a seamless end-to-end brand experience, from the first contact to fulfilment.
So here are five tips for retailers and their fulfilment partners on going back to the drawing board and mastering the basics of customer retention to stay successful in this challenging and dynamic marketplace.
Working together to harness data
Technological advances mean the gap is becoming more pronounced between companies that record and use data and those that do not. Ultimately it will be the retailers which are using data to create insight (and more importantly, foresight) to inform the development of their offering that thrives. Those working closely with their upstream and downstream partners increasingly need to harness data in a way that creates a better customer experience from initial search to final delivery.
This applies to all parts of the supply chain, from retailers using geolocated delivery to give customers a more personalised experience, to logistics companies using data as a tool to understand and locate where a driver is in real time, and how likely they are to impact upon a customer’s daily schedule.
Data is key to anticipating issues and customer requirements, allowing us to provide the best possible online retail delivery experiences.
Consistency of channels
Customers shouldn’t find that an online shopping experience is totally different to what they might find offline visiting a shop in person. Brand experiences should always be consistent so customers don’t see channel differences. Brands that thrive remember the basics of retail – a good proposition, a touch of inspiration and a store that is easy to navigate.
Ted Baker is an example of a retailer which has mastered brand experiences through robust targeting, great curation and an experience that is genuinely ‘end to end’. The shopper’s journey is seamless, from browsing through the website to the point of delivery – all elements, from packaging to the returns flyers are aligned and beautifully on brand.
Teaming up with the right partner can be a great way to complete a positive brand experience for the customer across multiple channels. For example, retailers or delivery companies can work with technology companies or start-ups to offer online or offline experiences which they don’t have either the resources or agility to create or deliver in-house.
One example of an innovative partnership is the one created between CollectPlus and Gett – the global on-demand ride-sharing service. This partnership was born from the insights we gained by listening to the problems online shoppers were experiencing. We came up with an innovative way to make their lives easier – offering online London shoppers the ability to return unwanted items through Gett’s courier service, at a time of their choosing, without having to leave their home or office.
Getting returns right
Returns are almost always the consequence of a customer’s expectations not being met, and it’s this often undervalued service that the retailer, together with their delivery partners, should increasingly focus their efforts on.
Whilst at first glance online shoppers who frequently return items can seem unattractive to retailers, they shouldn’t be ignored. They are still likely to reward their favourite brands with regular purchases across seasons, sustained loyalty, and recommendations to family and friends.
In the long term, a high lifetime value makes frequent returners an attractive customer segment. This means offering flexible and convenient returns solutions that fit in with people’s busy lives is an essential part of the customer experience, and should be underpinned by swift refunds, as this releases the customer to repurchase.
Prepare for peak periods
It’s crucial for retailers to get delivery experiences right over busy periods such as Christmas and Black Friday. According to research carried out by the Institute of Customer Service last year, UK retailers could have missed out on £3 billion due to delivery failures across the Christmas period.
Delivery companies and retailers need to remember that, emotionally, this is a bad time to get deliveries wrong, and any failure to bring a present on time could hurt a brand significantly, if not permanently. Shoppers also have much more choice of where to shop – this means it’s crucial to get things right first time, even if that requires more support and investment. So working together to plan collections, volumes, service standards, returns and hours of operation should always start earlier than you think.
When you boil it all down, modern retail is not all about look and feel or service, it is about managing remarkable moments that create a desire to repeat… and seek that next ‘hit’.
Neil Ashworth is chief executive of CollectPlus