What impact does delivery have on improving the customer experience and increasing loyalty? Emma Herrod investigates.
For many shoppers, their main physical experience of a retailer is when a carrier knocks on their door and hands over a parcel containing something they’ve ordered. There’s a lot hinging on that interaction: the handing over of the delivery and giving the customer the right experience on their doorstep. The customer should be expecting the parcel at that time, the packaging needs to match their expectations of the brand and the product should be what they ordered. These are all vital elements since the majority of shoppers say they will revisit a retail site if they receive a great customer experience.
“Customer experience is the emotional side of what goes on in your head,” says Jeremy Waite, Head of Digital Strategy for Marketing Cloud EMEA, Salesforce. It’s basically doing things on the customers’ terms rather than on the retailer’s he explains. The delivery experience, therefore, needs to result in the right emotional response from the customer, to leave them feeling good about the retail brand, and achieving this starts well before the final mile.
“Delivery comes with a context,” Qaalfa Dibeehi, Vice President Customer Experience, Forrester, told the audience at MetaPack’s Delivery Conference. He explained that shoppers don’t go to a retailer’s site for a delivery; they go because they’re interested in what’s being sold. “If we understand the context, that gives you the opportunity to make something out of the delivery,” he added. It all has to start with the customer and an understanding of their journey.
Dibeehi gave examples of companies which have aligned their delivery experience with customer expectations. Russian consumer electronics retailer Mvideo, for example, has to contend with extreme weather conditions in the east of the country, where delivering a product once is hard enough without having to return a second time for a missed delivery or product return. The company simply ensures that the product is working properly when they deliver it.
In the UAE, one telco has recruited and trained female service technicians who can install Wi-Fi for customers who prefer not to have a male technician enter their house while their husband is at work.
Retailers should ask themselves what they want customers to feel and whether they’re delivering that. Also, they need to consider whether it is possible to deliver that experience and – just as importantly – whether it is worth it for the business.
At Marks & Spencer , the delivery strategy is all about consistency, convenience and communication. “Consistency is fundamental to our business,” says David Walmsley, Director, M&S.com, explaining that customers have to believe that you will deliver on the promise.
Convenience means giving customers options and a range of delivery methods. The same customer may use multiple collection points or delivery methods depending on their needs and the products involved. M&S offers 630 collection points at stores, hospitals, train stations and motorway service stations, and is testing using Simply Food outlets at BP petrol stations. Returns options also need to be flexible, so M&S offers returns to shops and via CollectPlus and InPost points.
Walmsley also highlights the importance of email subject lines to ensure that messages about orders and delivery don’t get stuck in the noise of the inbox. He says: “Customers want the right message at the right time and they want an email and regular SMS communication throughout the day to when their order gets delivered.”
The experience is about the physical space, too, and M&S is using heat mapping at two stores to analyse how customers move in and out of the collection area.
The retailer’s concept collection area has lower podiums so customers can put their other shopping on these rather than the floor. It also has changing rooms so they can try items on and take them home or return them without having to go to a different area of the shop. Two sticky strips on the click and collect bags enable customers to open the bag and then easily reseal it without having to ask for a 5p carrier bag.
As the volume of click and collect orders grows for individual retailers, we’re starting to see better signposted collection points, queuing systems and more areas specially designed for the right experience rather than a counter at the back of the store or down a stairwell. This is hardly surprising if other retailers’ experience is the same as M&S’s, which sees 60% of online orders collected and where “the most valuable revenue per foot is our collection area”.
Argos took it one step further in November when it tested a fast lane on the pavement close to its store in the Liverpool One shopping centre. This removed a major bugbear for shoppers, according to the retailer’s research, by enabling them to speed past people who were window shopping or dawdling.
While retailers like to give shoppers a reason to visit their store and those collecting online orders are likely to make further purchases as they wind their way to the collection point, consumers also don’t want to be left waiting too long. This means getting messages to staff is also important when it comes to click and collect services. M&S has developed an app which cuts 45 seconds off the collection time, while Argos Fast Track customers have their order ready and waiting for them behind the collection point.
Fashion retailer River Island is among the retailers testing beacons to improve the in-store experience for customers collecting orders. Staff are being told when the customer is approaching the store or when they have entered it so they can bring the parcel to the front of house, ready for pick-up, explains Helen Colclough, eCommerce Development Manager, River Island.
“They also don’t like to collect,” she says, especially on days when the weather is bad. So its customers can now use the Shutl delivery service to pick up their item from store and deliver it to them at a convenient time and location.
WHAT IS CONVENIENCE?
House of Fraser is looking closely at the delivery experience its customers receive and how delivery and fulfilment impact sales. Its Chief Customer Officer, Andy Harding, told delegates at the MetaPack conference that “growth has been driven a lot by our delivery proposition”. He added that the retailer’s Buy and Collect service is “one of the cornerstones of our growth and remains such an important part of our proposition”.
Buy & Collect represents 35% of online orders and Harding said the retailer was continually pushing the boundaries of what it can do. Customers can now order up to midnight for midday collection the following day, 7 days a week, which he said has been a “huge success”. “However, we’re somewhat victims of own success,” Harding added, since the service creates enormous volume in store as well as queues at lunchtime when people go to collect their purchases. So how can House of Fraser stores improve the experience for customers? Offering incentives to collect at a different time is one of many options which could be tried, and it is currently working with Qudini, which has developed an in-store digital queuing mechanism.
Harding advised delegates to focus on customer satisfaction. House of Fraser has repeatedly received 90% satisfaction ratings for its Buy & Collect service – except for during one hour on Black Friday. “That’s when satisfaction drops to the floor and customers don’t make another incremental purchase,” he said.
Fulfilment is an area through which the retailer tries to differentiate itself and delivery is no exception. Its premium services, for example, include a pre-9am delivery option with most parcels reaching the customer by 8am.
Whichever fulfilment option each customer chooses, they are all looking for convenience and this is the main driver upon which retailers are agreed. This convenience, explained Harding, is made up of cost, speed and precision:
Precision – the customer has a specific requirement that they need the order at a specific time because that’s when they’ll be at a certain location;
Speed – I need it now. The closer we can get to getting that parcel to them as quickly as possible is critical in so many customer use cases. House of Fraser is trying to work out how to deliver from stores;
Cost – A core factor.
Harding added: “Advocacy is what we are striving to achieve in terms of our customer journey, in terms of how we focus on our comms. Advocacy is absolutely the panacea, and delivery and our ability to service our customers according to the context with which they need to be serviced across cost, precision and speed, that’s a fundamental pillar in achieving true advocacy in our customer base. Advocacy will lead to more customers and more sales.”
It is the premium delivery services which drive frequency and loyalty from Asos customers, while free standard shipping supports international growth, according to the firm’s CEO, Nick Beighton. “Delivery choice and timely delivery are just as important as ease of ordering,” he says. The company has just launched with On the Dot to give customers the “ultimate convenience” of being able to select their desired delivery day and time slot.
“Customers want delivery fast, free and to be in control,” adds Beighton. He points out that they also want convenience and he believes that at Asos they need to give customers choice. Its customer focus, then, is to give them “options they can choose from rather than ‘here it is’ and ‘come and get it’.”
Tony Burley, Operations Director at boohoo, agrees that customers want to see multiple delivery options that are specific to them. “They want to be told quickly what their options are and they can then choose,” he says.
Convenience is still the key for delivery experience, but it’s also important to understand what that means for the individual customer in each instance. Maybe this will lead to more retailers filtering products shown to each customer based on delivery preference, in the same way that Amazon does with its Prime service.
As with everything else in a customer-centric retail organisation, delivery services need to start with the end point – the customer – and are worked backwards from there, not just in terms of the logistics of how and where and when the order is delivered but in the psychology of why the customer wants it in that place and at that speed and what the resulting experience will be like. If exceeding expectations helps boost loyalty and advocacy, then expectations have to be managed carefully throughout the entire journey, not just the final mile.