No customer wants her online order delayed. But during the pandemic and the holidays, supply chains are disrupted, warehouses are less efficient and shipping carriers are over capacity. Shipping delays are inventible in 2020.
Luckily, online-only floral retailer UrbanStems was looking for a more efficient way to analyze and act on shipping information before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted operations. UrbanStems implemented last-mile shipping software Convey in February 2020 to help the brand determine where shipping delays will likely occur on any given day. This service is beneficial for normal operations for the retailer, but it turned out to be vital during the pandemic.
With flowers, delivering the product on an intended day is critical, says UrbanStems CEO Seth Goldman. Customers are often ordering bouquets for a special occasion, and a delay could mean the bouquet does not arrive on the noteworthy day. Plus, the product could possibly perish if it spends too many days in transit without care. UrbanStems targets for its delicate products to be delivered in one day to guarantee their survival.
The complexity of delivering a perishable product is further compounded with product sourcing. UrbanStems sources its flowers from across the globe and receives shipments twice a week every week. Some pieces come pre-arranged, but many bouquets are assembled in one of its seven warehouses that it has across the U.S. to provide next-day shipping, Goldman says. Flowers come in from nearby Philadelphia, California or Canada, or from farther away locations including Columbia and Ecuador.
While UrbanStems knows to ramp up its operations during peak periods like Valentines’ Day and Mother’s Day, it’s the unexpected events, such as wildfires or supply disruption, that can cause delays that it wanted to better manage.
“The best arrow in our quiver is transparency with the customer,” Goldman says.
Before integrating the Convey software into its site, UrbanStems’ customer service employees had to log into each of its shipping carrier’s portals, checking on the status of orders and comparing against the date it promised to deliver the order. This was time-consuming to put it all together and often resulted in human error, Goldman says. Convey’s software automatically pulls all of this data into one dashboard for UrbanStems and highlights specific orders that are likely to have delays. With this data, UrbanStems can then alert shoppers of a delay.
“We wanted to be more proactive in our customer outreach,” Goldman says. “Their algorithm, what it really solves for us, is pinpoint delays, orders that we have high confidence where there could be a delay.”
A few months after implementing this system, UrbanStems had a 60% reduction in “where is my order” calls, and Goldman estimates its customer service team spends 75-80% less time looking up orders in different systems because they only have to log into one system.
“’Where is my order’ questions are time-consuming but not necessarily as value-added if it can be automated,” Goldman says.
UrbanStems has four in-house customer service employees and employs 11 additional representatives at a customer service agency. With the time savings, those representatives can then spend their time on more complex customer service issues, he says. It took about six months to integrate Convey’s software into its ecommerce site. Goldman declined to reveal the costs.
While no customer wants to receive a message that their order is delayed, UrbanStems says it is better to let the customer know about an issue as soon as possible. This allows the customer to react, determine a plan B if the flowers were a gift and builds trust with the brand, Goldman says.
The alternative is to not let the customer know ahead of time about a delay, have the order delayed, and the disappointed customer may or may not complain. While Goldman says a retailer may “get away” with a customer not complaining about a delay, it’s still not a good customer experience, he says. In the long run, if a shopper is choosing a retailer to purchase flowers from again, Goldman argues that she will trust a company that was transparent about a delay compared with one that didn’t communicate at all about a delay.
The last-mile shipping software was certainly in use over the last few months, when UrbanStems had delays with in-bound flower shipments, COVID-19 outbreaks at facilities, and shutting down same-day delivery operations in New York City and Washington, D.C. for three months.
Overall, a large part of its network did manage to have one- or two-day delivery during the pandemic months of 2020, Goldman says. While there were several weeks where it had a higher percent of package delays than typical, UrbanStems worked hard to proactively communicate with customers about delays, Goldman says without revealing specifics.
Many merchants had order delays during the pandemic, with nearly 30% of packages having a delay in June, according to data based on Convey’s clients, which includes tens of millions of packages shipped from more than 500,000 U.S. locations. In November, 20% of orders had a delay compared with 14% of orders in November 2019, according to Convey data.Favorite