In today’s retail environment mediocracy has no place and shoppers no longer value price over everything else. Instead of buying from the cheapest sellers, consumers are increasingly preferring to shop with businesses that can offer them the best customer experience. In fact, according to a 2018 report by Gladly, 68% of consumers would pay more for a product if a company has great service. As a result, online retailers are feeling the pressure to jump through an increasing number of hoops as the definition of ‘good customer experience’ continues to evolve. One area of retail that is particularly subject to this shift is delivery. As online shopping continues to grow at a steady pace, eCommerce retailers need to step up their offerings to appease modern consumers who have more options than ever before when choosing where and how to buy their goods. After all, everything from the marketing and adverts consumers receive to their coffee orders are now personalised, so why should this not include delivery?
Consumers now value choice and control in delivery more than ever before and online retailers must act on this to stay competitive. Fulfilment services need to be upgraded to allow for delivery to take place around consumers’ busy lifestyles and countless commitments. Next-day delivery is now the minimum expectation - this is now offered by 1 in 5 of the top 500 retailers - and is no longer enough to ensure customer loyalty. In fact, we are already seeing exciting new steps being taken by some organisations when it comes to delivery. Amazon, for example, has introduced an innovative ‘key’ initiative which allows couriers to drop off packages inside garages when customers are not home, and has experimented with drone deliveries to reduce fulfilment time and increase convenience for the consumer. JD.com has already successfully implemented this strategy in some rural parts of China, making its goods more accessible to remote customers.
Fulfilment has come a long way from the days of untrackable parcels that took weeks to arrive on your doorstep. We are now fortunate to have countless options when ordering online, from same-day delivery to click-and-collect thanks to omnichannel integration. Busy, time-stretched consumers value convenience above all else in today’s ‘always on world’ and therefore, deliveries must be personalised to ensure successful delivery first time, every time. This can be done in a number of ways. Enabling shoppers to edit their delivery address and time slot after the order has been confirmed, right up until it is due to be delivered, is an important step forward. 25% of failed ecommerce deliveries can be attributed to the inability to change an address after the order is placed which shows just how important it is to give consumers more power after a sale has been made. This will eradicate any dissatisfaction that comes with discovering you chose an incorrect delivery address or selected to have a parcel delivered to home when in fact, it will arrive during office hours. Currently, as few as 4% of retailers let customers alter their delivery details after their order has been confirmed, including when it is already in transit.
Innovative delivery systems will soon be able to choose the most convenient delivery details automatically by learning a customer’s daily routine and changing an address or time accordingly. At first, this would be made possible by shoppers inputting their routines into an online calendar that the system could access. This would allow it to deliver to an office address during the week or a home address at the weekend, for example. However, the next step would use IoT connectivity and mobile devices to track where a shopper is likely to be at which time, without them having to input this data manually. This will further increase convenience by accounting for last minute changes in routine, such as working from home or attending a doctor’s appointment. Amazon recently won a patent for ‘mobile pickup locations’ which would work hand-in-hand with routine-led delivery systems if implemented. It would see Amazon delivering parcels to a bus or train that commuters regularly take to work, allowing them to collect their order without going out of the way of their normal routine.
As well as pinpointing delivery and making the service more personalised, retailers can also increase flexibility and offer more options to improve customer satisfaction. This would include widening the period during which delivery can take place to accommodate those who may want to fit it around other lifestyle commitments. Inspiration can again be taken from large retailers – for example, Amazon and Ocado both have successful flexible delivery initiatives. The one-hour delivery services, Amazon Prime Now and Ocado Zoom, are made possible thanks to micro-fulfilment centres which are strategically placed around the country to allow for super-fast delivery. The companies relying on mega-warehouses for all of their deliveries will struggle to compete with what these pioneers can offer.
Implementing a diverse range of delivery options is not just good for consumer experience and satisfaction, but it can also help drive internal business efficiencies if managed correctly and the right processes are implemented in the warehouse. Real-time location tracking and data sharing, facilitated by the use of hand-held mobile scanners in warehouses will become a necessity and this in turn will allow for effective omnichannel integration between store, supply chain and warehouse. An efficient order management system can drive customer service and convenience, by allowing customers to track the exact location of their order, and enhance the instore experience with up-to-date, connected store employees.
As well as benefiting store workers, real-time data sharing and visibility throughout the company and supply chain will help to drive automation in the warehouse. The speed and efficiency of workers will improve because they can follow optimum routes around the warehouse and pick orders in the most time and cost-effective way – all shown to them by connected technology such as smart glasses. In addition to this, it will allow management and decision makers to accurately predict stock outages and forecast which products will need replenishing. This will help to minimise the number of consumers disappointed because they are unable to purchase the product they wanted.
It is therefore hard to see why ecommerce retailers wouldn’t strive towards offering personalised and flexible delivery to their customers. This service will drive internal business efficiencies by cutting the time allowed for each delivery, as well as increasing customer convenience and promoting brand loyalty and repeat purchases. Customers increasingly value the service they receive rather than the price they pay and offering flexible and personalised delivery is the way for retailers to stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Gavin Masters is industry principal at Maginus