Commentary

Time to seize ownership of the last mile customer experience

While it was great to see online sales within the UK grow 17% year-on-year in June 2016, problems with product deliveries are still causing a headache for customers, writes Niklas Hedin, CEO of Centiro. In fact, 53% of UK consumers experienced an issue with an online order during the last 12 months, an increase on the 47% reported 12 months previously.

Niklas Hedin, Centiro

Niklas Hedin, Centiro

This situation is leaving scores of consumers wondering about the status of their orders, and who to contact in the event of a problem – the retailer, or the carrier tasked with the delivery.

If a shopper buys a rug from an online retailer, for example, you can generally expect that they will have done extensive research comparing prices and styles from a number of sources. By the time they have made a purchase they have already invested a lot of time and effort as well as money in the item, so it’s understandable if they become agitated should the item not arrive in the expected time frame. But, in this scenario, once a customer tries to chase a retailer, they are often redirected to the delivery firm’s own site, which means the retailer loses control of the customer interaction.

Understand the difference between common sense and reality

Common sense suggests the blame for delays lies with the company the product has been purchased from. Of course, that’s not always the case: for example, a traffic accident further upstream could have triggered the delays at no fault of the retailer. But the customer won’t necessarily understand – or care – what the cause of the problem was. This is proven by a recent report showing that 60% of consumers believe the retailer should be responsible for resolving delivery problems; just 33% believe it’s the delivery company’s responsibility.

While 60% of respondents think the retailer should resolve delivery problems, only 33% who believe it should be the delivery company

And this matters: consumer frustrations with deliveries are a big reputational risk for any retailer.

Grab the wheel

Retailers need to seize control of their delivery experience and reclaim more of the responsibility from carriers to own the last mile customer experience. Retailers need to create a full-circle brand experience for the customer, but achieving this involves several stages. Firstly, retailers need to be able to easily mix and match new carriers quickly, both locally and internationally, to meet the requirements of all their customers. Secondly, they need to provide a consistent user experience, such as a simple to follow website and ensuring any interaction carried out under the retailer’s brand. Finally, retailers need to have complete visibility into their own delivery networks to make precise delivery promises to customers and deal with any returns effectively.

Keep it simple

Potential customers should never have to jump through hoops or navigate complicated menus to check when, where and how items will be delivered. Design a website that keeps information clear for a customer and you have already delivered a positive experience from the start. For example, showing how much it would cost to have something delivered on the same day rather than standard delivery, or what would be the cost of moving the delivery from an address in England to Sweden at the last minute?

Consumers are increasingly expecting retailers’ websites to be simple to use. Too many options, logos and links to external webpages are confusing. To the customer, it must appear as if everything is under the retailer’s branding, as this is ultimately the party they are trusting with their purchase.

Own the whole process, from start to finish

It cannot be ignored that logistics providers play a critical role in the success of ecommerce operations, and this is especially true during times of increased seasonal demand, such as Black Friday towards the end of last year, resulting in some retailers failing to deliver on delivery promises. Retailers need to have complete visibility into their delivery networks so they can offer customers more options and better fulfil their promises.

Effectively manage the returns process

Finally, returns shouldn’t be ignored and just treated as a cost recovery exercise: they also provide an opportunity to enhance customer experience and drive future revenues. For example, retailers can reward loyalty by providing high net worth or the most frequent shoppers with a wealth of returns options to suit them. At the same time, they can reduce costs by not offering the same amount of free returns to lower value customers who return more goods than they keep. More visibility can also help here by forewarning the retailer when any returned items are on the way to the warehouse so they can manage deliveries and returns more effectively.

Ultimately, a poor last mile experience will mean consumers will shop elsewhere. It’s time for retailers to regain control of delivery networks through automating the management of multiple carriers and provide customers with tracking and delivery status information all under their own branding. Those retailers who are able to evolve their delivery operation to effectively meet the customer demands of the omni-channel age will be the future winners. Those that don’t will continue to fall at the final hurdle.

Image credits:
  • Menzies, Editorial use only.