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Delivery: The new business battleground for customer loyalty

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To be a true multichannel success, retailers need to stop viewing fulfilment as being a purely transactional operation and start thinking like their customers.

When online retail was in its inception, around 15 years ago, consumers were reluctant to trust it and many were nervous about using it. Familiar concerns ranged from “Can I trust this website?” to “Will my card details be safe?”

However, by now these concerns have long dissipated and online commerce has become a well established and trusted retail vertical, now making up to 20 per cent of the total turnover of UK firms.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the UK, 80 per cent of the population made at least one online purchase in 2014. Online shopping is becoming the norm for an increasing number of people, with many visiting traditional shops even less frequently. As a result, ecommerce sales have been soaring, increasing by 66 per cent between 2008 and 2013 in the UK.

The key consideration for multichannel retailers in regards to fulfilment is that the point of delivery is when they’re going to be judged on their ability to keep promises.

Online shoppers don’t only buy a product; they buy a promise. A promise that the item they’ve bought will be delivered in the condition described and will arrive when expected.

For customers to stay loyal, they need to feel that if spending their money with a retailer is easy, that retailer also ensures that they can receive and return the goods in a convenient way. Ideally the retailer will offer a range of delivery and collection options that fit the customer’s life, without interfering with their schedules.

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Most brands are still looking at the speed of delivery as their main consideration. More and more retailers are working on beating their own delivery time records, with 24-hour or next-day delivery services. However, in survey after survey, convenience trumps speed.

Theoretically next-day delivery seems great, but what if your customer, like most people, is at work the next day and thus is unable to accept the package. Will they be able to collect it from a local collection point? Will he or she be given a time frame for when the parcel is going to be delivered, so they can plan their day accordingly? Or will the customer have to wait till the weekend and queue up for ages at the sorting office to get the parcel, which was “delivered” on the next day.

Retailers and carriers need to prioritise the needs of the customer by optimising their fulfilment operations. A number already do and are likely to form a breakaway group of class-leading retailers and carriers, who offer great services focused on great customer service and convenience.

Sainsbury’s are a great example, who perform well for the delivery promises they make for their grocery and non-food products. Key standout features include one-hour timed delivery slots and a market-leading returns policy that offers a full refund for up to 12 months on non-perishable items.

With more and more retailers following Sainsbury’s lead and offering greater certainty over delivery times, those who want to distinguish themselves from the rest will need to go even further. 24 hours or next-day delivery is the next aspect of fulfilment which can be improved upon.

Getting delivery right means giving customers options – retailers who are viewed as flexible and accommodating win more sales. Those who struggle to do so will have to find partners they can collaborate with to get over those hurdles they’ll never clear alone.

Retailers who fail to do so could see themselves falling into a group that can’t compete on service and can only compete on price.

If you want to get your online strategy right, you can learn from the seven UK retailers that were given “elite” status for ecommerce and multichannel services.

Ian Jindal is an experienced multichannel retailer and editor-in-chief of InternetRetailing

Best practices, key trends and discussions of multichannel fulfilment will be seen this 27 and 28 April at the eDelivery Expo (EDX16), at the NEC Birmingham.

Delegates attending The Multichannel Fulfilment Conference track, within the trade show, will hear from a range of experts sharing views, expertise, and case studies on best practice in multichannel fulfilment and how it is becoming the new battleground for customer loyalty.

Image: Shutterstock

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