The last mile – where the retail battle is won or lost
By the time you read this most people will have completed the bulk of their Christmas shopping, particularly anyone buying presents online. And the latest figures show that more and more consumers are now purchasing on the Internet. Online sales are still climbing – hitting £10.1 billion in November 2013, according to the IMRG Cap Gemini e-Retail Sales Index, up 10% on 2012.
There are a lot of factors involved in being successful online. You need the right products at the right prices, but also must provide the right customer experience. Your website has to be simple to navigate, information has to be clear and easy to find, and customer service must be responsive and accurate.
But it is the final part of the puzzle – delivery, where all your good work can be completely undone. If a customer doesn’t receive their order, it is damaged, delivered to the wrong address or they have to trek miles to pick it up it up from an industrial estate on the edge of town, that will be their overriding memory of the entire experience. And chances are that they won’t come back, no matter how good the rest of the customer journey was.
Retailers are in a difficult position. The majority don’t have their own delivery fleets, relying on third party logistics companies or the Royal Mail. In turn, many of these companies subcontract deliveries in some areas to freelance drivers, particularly in the run up to Christmas. So it can appear that a customer’s prized package can leave the warehouse and disappear into a black hole, never to be seen again. So how can retailers (and their logistics partners) ensure that the customer experience continues successfully all the way to the front door? Here are five areas to focus on for Christmas:
1. Encourage click and collect
The one delivery method that retailers do have complete control over is collection in-store of goods bought online. Not only does this avoid the need to use home deliveries, it also offers the chance to upsell and cross-sell while the shopper is there. So retailers need to ensure that the collection process is slick and easy to understand and that customers are positively encouraged to go down this route, such as by not charging for in-store delivery.
2. Make it easy to track
Obviously logistics companies have separate IT and customer service systems to their retail clients, but sharing information is vital. Customer service teams at retailers need to be able to tap into the latest position of a parcel – and this information should also be available to consumers themselves via the web. That way they can solve many of their queries themselves, without needing to call or email, increasing satisfaction and reducing the load on your customer service team.
3. Communicate well
Customers want to know what is happening with their order, through the channel of their choice. So email to let them know when it has been dispatched and also the actual day it will be delivered. Many firms use text messages to confirm the final delivery date or time, which helps allay any fears of packages going astray.
4. Prioritise delivery enquiries
At this time of year, particularly with Christmas getting ever-closer, customers are understandably worried about when their presents are going to arrive. So make sure that you set their minds at rest by prioritising delivery enquiries, either through dedicated numbers, drop down menus on web forms or linguistic technology that analyses digital interactions, recognises relevant words and phrases in context, and then moves queries to the front of the queue.
5. Take responsibility
The customer has bought from you, the retailer. Issues with your delivery supplier are not their problem, but yours. So don’t simply pass on the customer service details of your logistics company and force consumers to chase direct to find out where their parcel is, but take responsibility for the entire process. Call or email the supplier yourself and then report back to your customer with a hopefully successful outcome. This does mean more work, but in terms of controlling the experience and engaging with customers, it could potentially mean the difference between a repeat order and lost business.
Online operations rely on successful delivery – so make sure that you’re able to provide the answers consumers are looking for and can manage the last mile of the customer journey if you want to have a Happy Christmas when it comes to sales.