In addition to responding instantly to customer service inquiries, brands are expected to fulfill orders more quickly than ever. Given that four in 10 customer service contacts are related to “WISMO” (“Where Is My Order?”), merchants striving to deliver superior customer experiences face pressure for speed on two fronts.
For years, online shoppers prioritized free shipping over fast delivery by a wide margin. High shipping costs were a top cause of abandoned online shopping carts, and shoppers would add items to their carts to qualify for free shipping thresholds. Today, “free” still trumps “fast”: more than half of shoppers say free shipping is of primary importance, compared with 10% or fewer who rank speed in first place, according to measurement firm comScore.
But at the same time, expectations are rising for swift delivery capabilities. Four in five U.S. consumers expect merchants to be able to deliver items the next day if orders are placed by 1 p.m. -- and more than a third believe items bought after 5 p.m. should still qualify for next-day delivery, UPS found. And during the peak holiday season, expectations for speed are high: in 2017, Deloitte found that just 42% of shoppers considered delivery “within 3-4 days” to be “fast” -- a drop of 33% compared with the prior year. Similarly, two-thirds of shoppers said they would pay nothing extra to receive goods within two days, Deloitte found.
Contributing to this time pressure is Amazon, which earlier this year announced one-day delivery would be the default for members of its Prime subscription club. In response, rivals Target and Walmart are stepping up efforts to offer one-day delivery and same-day store pickup, while smaller brands that were already straining to match Prime’s long-held two-day timeframe are now scrambling harder to keep pace. As the race continues into 2020, retailers that can execute seamless fulfillment -- and provide up-to-the-minute updates on order status -- will have an advantage.
To meet shoppers’ rising expectations for both free and fast fulfillment, merchants should explore all possible avenues to make their operations as nimble as possible, while communicating capabilities clearly at every stage along the path to purchase. Priorities include:
- Fully integrated order management and inventory tracking. Together with the eCommerce site, these back-end systems can enable services such as Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS), now used by seven in 10 consumers, according to Business Insider, along with ship-from-store capabilities, which can speed last-mile fulfillment while potentially keeping costs lower than relying on a distribution center.
- Shipping rewards for loyal customers. Offering free or discounted expedited shipping to frequent buyers, to loyalty club members for special occasions (such as birthdays or around the holidays), and/or to social media advocates gives VIPs access to the swift delivery they expect, without making margin-destroying mass offers to all shoppers.
- Selective acceleration for key categories. Merchants selling products in multiple categories may want to throttle shipping speed to match buyers’ expectations and avoid being outgunned by the competition. Perishables, high-consideration products, and large items incurring higher shipping fees are all candidates for swift delivery, as are need-it-now staples such as diapers and toilet paper. More than 20% of shoppers expect household essentials to arrive within two days, as do 15% of those buying baby products, according to a study from Internet Retailer and Bizrate.
- Comprehensive, frequent customer service messaging. More than 4 in 10 consumers say they research delivery costs prior to purchase, while 56% actively track every order, UPS found -- so merchants should begin messaging estimated delivery dates and fees early on the path to purchase. Once an order is underway, more than 60% of WISMO customer service requests occur before orders have been assigned a carrier tracking number, according to Linc, so it’s essential to communicate pre-shipment updates and deliver them via customers’ preferred channel. When it comes to in-store pickup, retailers should send multiple messages to help customers navigate the process.
You can learn more about the customer experience and how automating the shopper experience can engage your customers at every touchpoint by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, Levi's, Carter's and others are using an automated customer assistance platform as part of their customer experience strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.