To say 2020 was a difficult year for retailers would perhaps be an understatement. The Covid-19 pandemic caught businesses off guard as they just recovered from peak season. With lockdowns in place across the country, orders flooded in, borders closed, and social distancing measures left them struggling to fulfil orders. Consumer habits and the trend towards online shopping caused by the pandemic became routine over the year and are set to be permanent. That meant that as peak season approached again, businesses were continuing to balance high volumes of sales and supply chain disruption, with the additional complication of Brexit looming. Britain has now officially left the EU, meaning that selling across borders has more red tape and forms to process.
2020 peak was in many ways one of the best for online retailers with parcel volumes up 60% from 2019. However, it has also shone a light on the lack of contingency planning for many businesses, and they have needed to be more flexible than ever. In order to be prepared for the future and build a more robust ecommerce strategy, businesses must take the learnings from Covid-19, Peak and Brexit in order to succeed.
Although consumers were understanding of the initial online delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, online buyers won’t always be so patient. It’s important to protect the customer delivery experience to not only encourage repeat sales, but also to secure the purchase - after all a great delivery service starts at checkout.
A range of delivery options are essential to your customers delivery experience, and 45% of customers will abandon their cart if there is a lack of delivery options. Offering choices such as same day, next day, nominated day or click and collect means that customers can pick the one most convenient from them. The added bonus for retailers is the delivery options help your operations by spreading our traffic volumes. For example, during the 2020 peak season, 30% of customers chose a Friday rather than the weekend for delivery when given the choice. More options mean that it’s less likely that all your parcels will be going out at the same time, and ensures you reduce the chance of delays.
Of course, issues can still arise even with the best delivery strategy in place. It’s here that constant communication with your customers about the expected delivery time will be the most valuable tool to ensure a happy customer. Even if there are delays, a reassured customer is more likely to leave positive reviews, and it reduces time spent dealing with queries.
We all know the importance of planning ahead for peak periods, and it was never more important than in 2020. Carriers warned retailers that their forecasts for peak should be early and accurate as they were concerned, they wouldn’t be able to cope with any additional requests or may need to turn off services. Luckily carriers coped even better than expected in 2020, with them operating at 90%+ most days. However, it still has highlighted the need for robust forecasting and planning as this is what ensured that carriers could handle the load. While some things can’t be predicted, the best planning will make sure you are prepared whatever happens.
As online sales surged overnight during the Covid-19 pandemic, some carriers were forced to cap parcel volumes, switch off certain services or even cancel collections at short notice, all to protect their own services. This meant that retailers who relied on one carrier were left with parcels with nowhere to go, and a backlog of orders.
Retailers who want to ensure they have a robust contingency plan in place therefore must work with multiple carriers rather than just one. This means that should a carrier run into problems; retailers can easily switch to an alternate partner to ensure there are no delays for your customers. The additional benefit of a multi carrier approach is that you can select a range of carriers best suited for your business and your products. The result will be a much more flexible and tailored service for your customers.
As we look ahead to the future of online retail, the most important take out for retailers is to prepare for the unexpected. Those who can pivot their business model according to demand and challenges facing them are the ones that are best placed to survive and thrive. Having a wide net of carriers and suppliers to protect stock levels and delivery services is essential.
Some retailers may view managing multiple carriers as too big a task for their operations – and they are right that it can be time consuming and costly. However, this is why many retailers are now working with one multi carrier delivery partner who can provide all the expertise, competitive rates, latest technology and delivery choice that retailers need and customers want. This takes all the hassle of delivery out of the retailers’ hands, so they only have one cost, one relationship and one pick up to worry about. With the right final mile partner, retailers can ensure they can build a delivery strategy ready to tackle 2021 and beyond.
Bobbie Ttooulis, executive director, Global Freight Solutions