Especially during the peak holiday season, online retailers have to live up to high customer expectations. Here are five ways to do that.

Lila Snyder, executive vice president and president, Commerce Services, Pitney Bowes

Lila Snyder, executive vice president and president, Commerce Services, Pitney Bowes

Consumers have raised the bar in terms of what they expect from the e-commerce experience. Personalization, free shipping, and easy returns are now part of consumer expectations. More than one-third of global consumers make online purchases at least once per week, and 60% make purchases through marketplaces rather than directly from a retailer’s website, according to the 2017 Pitney Bowes Global Ecommerce Study.

The stakes—and the volumes—are high, and retailers still have a long way to go toward meeting these expectations, particularly when it comes to the post-purchase experience. According to the same study, nearly half (47%) of online shoppers globally reported frustration with everything from shipping, to returns, to lost products and miscalculated duties and taxes during the 2016 holiday shopping season.

Adding to the stress, the number of unhappy online holiday shoppers rose six percent this season over the previous year and increased in every single one of the 12 major markets surveyed.

What can retailers do to extend a great customer experience beyond the shopping cart?

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The post-purchase experience has become critical to engaging new online shoppers and driving customer loyalty. Here are five elements to mastering the post-purchase experience for holiday shoppers:

1. Get inventory closer to the consumer

Let’s take a cue from marketplaces. With over 100 fulfillment locations in the US, within 20 miles of more than half of the US population, Amazon’s secret for success is not that secret anymore.

Fast and free are among online shoppers’ top requests and low cost, fast, flexible and accurate shipping is key to attracting and retaining customers. It may sound obvious, but with inventory closer to clients, less time is required to deliver products and shipping costs go down.

A consumer will track their package an average of 8 times per shipment.

A couple of ways to get inventory closer to consumers are 1) Using partners as distribution center “nodes” for fast-moving SKUs and 2) Leveraging stores to fulfill local orders. Managing store operations, setting the rules properly to avoid multi-parcel shipments and getting the technology right are key factors for success. This one strategy alone can lead to significant cost savings and increase customer satisfaction.

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2. Pick the right carrier, every time

Deploying a true multi-carrier strategy has many benefits. From faster delivery and better tracking to cost optimization. But, getting there isn’t easy. Only a few retailers are thinking strategically about the best carrier for their parcels. According to market research firm, Colography, many retailers have a “set it and forget it” mindset when it comes to parcel shipping and haven’t updated their systems in over 4 years.

Shipping API solutions that can integrate simply with core platforms and provide access to a breadth of carriers and rates is a great solution. Being able to decide which parcels to ship, from where and with which carrier, can free retailers from shipping constraints.

Understanding each carrier’s strengths and how to leverage them is key. The era of a “one size fits all” carrier agreement has passed. Retailers who learn to leverage the strengths of multiple carriers, either on their own or by using multi-carrier logistics partners will find ways to get to free-er shipping.

3. Communicate: It’s all about the data

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We’ve all been there. As a consumer, waiting for your package is the hardest part. Consumers crave a lot of information during this waiting window. According to Pitney Bowes data, on average, a consumer will track their package an average of 8 times per shipment. Assuming most parcel arrive within 5 days or less, that means consumers are checking multiple times per day.

Consumer preferences on how you communicate with them during this waiting window is also important. With tracking information accessible through many channels, it is important to remember that the majority of tracking happens on mobile and that the appropriate communications should be pushed at the appropriate times. The goal is to keep calls, emails, and inquires of all kinds out of customer support. The more proactive you are with your communications, the less “where is my package” inquires you’ll get.

4. Make returns easy

Returns are often thought of as edge cases, but not anymore. With 40% of orders generating a return in some categories, returns are now part of the shopping experience. Making it easy and free can help with returning customers. According to eMarketer, 66% of shoppers believe free return shipping is key to a great returns experience.

Your first priority on returns should be speed. How quickly can you get that consumer their money back to shop again? Through the work with our retail clients, we have seen that the longer the consumer waits, the more likely they are to spend that money elsewhere. Think of ways that you can make the whole experience easy for your clients: Pick up the package at home, provide a fast refund, good communications along the way.

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A tailored returns program can:

  • Reduce returns processing times
  • Lower labor costs
  • Improve customer experience

5. Don’t forget your international consumersAccording to the 2017 Pitney Bowes Global Ecommerce Study, 93% of retailers globally are already operating or planning to go cross-border. Of all the questions we asked, this was probably the one question that had the most consensus among retailers.

We often hear logistics is considered the hardest part of selling cross-border, but in reality there are other more important challenges to consider.

If you think domestic fraud is a problem, wait until you start getting orders from Russia, China, or Hong Kong. How do you know what’s a good order? Some tools today will automatically reject over 20% of your orders. At Pitney Bowes, we use machine learning technology and more than 10 years of experience to turn 85% of those rejected orders into good orders for our clients.

Compliance and customer care are the two other challenges that must be considered. We’ve all seen the headlines of someone shipping something that shouldn’t cross borders, and when it comes to customer care, you must keep in mind that global consumers don’t all speak English, so you need a partner that can support your consumers in their native language.

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More importantly, just because your website is global, doesn’t mean anyone is going to go there to buy something.  The right marketing and demand generation strategies are key for success.

At the end of the day, global consumers expect similar services as domestic ones, and they are less likely to forgive distance as an excuse for a sub-par post-purchase experience. It’s never too early to improve processes to deliver the best customer experience for every holiday shopper.

Pitney Bowes provides international e-commerce services to of the Top 1000 online retailers in North America and fulfillment services to 61,

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