This article originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2013 issue of Retail Times, the Retail Excellence Ireland trade publication. You can download a pdf of the full magazine on the Retail Excellence Ireland website here.
By Brendan O’Neill, CEO, DPD Ireland
As multichannel retail evolves, consumer expectations are shifting, and the customer journey becoming more complex. Yet this complexity is spawning new and exciting opportunities for retailers to reach customers at multiple touch points, from in store and online store, to mobile app and social media. While you might be inclined to think of online and offline operations as separate, the more e-savvy customers are not making the distinction between their online and offline experiences with a brand. Whether your business is already a multichannel entity, or you are in the consideration phase, delivering brand consistency and exceptional customer service across all channels should be a top priority.
From a fulfilment and distribution perspective, this means optimising your operations to meet your customers’ expectations, whether they’re buying online, in-store or cross-channel. And understanding just what your plugged-in consumer expects, and may come to expect in the future, can be a good starting point for deciding how best to implement or grow your multichannel operation.
From where the consumer’s standing, the most visible, and most important part of your e-fulfilment and distribution process is delivery. Ensuring that the customer’s entire experience around delivery is a good one, from the purchase process through to the arrival of their goods, will go a long way toward encouraging their repeat business.
Study after study has shown that when ordering online, consumers want – and expect – more information around delivery. They also want flexible options, including the ability to change delivery dates or times, and the ability to reroute a parcel.
As multichannel moves into ‘omnichannel’, more customers are gravitating toward cross-channel delivery and returns options offered by retailers, too, such as the ability to order online and collect in store, return online purchases in store, or order out of stock items for home delivery from within store.
When it comes to returns, customers expect an easy and inexpensive process, and they want to know what your policy is before they commit to buying from you. An overly complicated returns policy, charging too much for returns or burying your policy in the fine print of your website have all been cited in market research as some of the top reasons for shopping cart abandonment.
In creating or re-evaluating your shipping strategy, consider how delivery and returns fit into your target customer’s journey. Establish personas for customers to get a better sense of how they’re likely to shop. This will help you determine what delivery and returns options you want to offer and if at some point cross-channel options would be worthwhile.
To ensure a seamless customer service experience with your brand, it’s also important to be aware of the level of customer service shoppers will receive in relation to delivery. Our experience tells us that customers will often seek out the delivery company directly when they have a query or delivery issue. And customers who shop online often turn to online channels first, including social media. Evaluate how your carrier handles customer service issues, and through which channels. Do they have a phone number to call? Do they have a presence on Twitter and / or Facebook, and if so, are they prepared to handle customer queries there?
Once you have your strategy in place, be sure you inform your customers on your website about delivery charges and timeframes. Present a prominent link to your delivery information on the home page so customers can see how delivery will occur and what charges they can expect for any different options you may offer. Inform the customer exactly what they will be charged for delivery of the items in their shopping cart before they place their order.
From a fulfilment standpoint, the harmonisation of multichannel processes can be a daunting prospect, as ecommerce orders have a different profile from store orders. In online transactions, the customer is essentially asked to pay for their items in advance and therefore expects to receive their goods in a timely and error-free manner. You must have a system in place that prioritises these orders and facilitates them being dispatched to customers as quickly as possible.
Depending on the size of your operation, this could mean integrating e-fulfilment into your overall existing warehouse and inventory management system; establishing a separate e-fulfilment area in your existing operation, solely dedicated to your ecommerce transactions; or outsourcing e-fulfilment to a third party.
In exploring your options, keep in mind that ecommerce often entails small orders consisting of discrete items, so it is not possible to automate the e-fulfilment processes to the same degree as in traditional retail logistics. You will need to have in place inventory systems that support the most efficient picking, packing and distribution of these types of orders.
And though fulfilment happens behind the scenes as far as your customers are concerned, it is still important to think about their experience when evaluating your inventory workflow. Simply put, no matter what stage you are in with regard to multichannel fulfilment and distribution, letting your customer’s journey be a guide for the solutions you choose will ensure you deliver a seamless customer and brand experience.