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OPINION Evening delivery could help retailers exceed customer expectations

Darren Taylor, business solutions director at CitySprint, explores how retailers can exceed customer expectations with the likes of evening delivery.

In the golden quarter, for most online orders, retail deliveries matter more than at any other time of the year. This is the period when broken promises often can’t be easily remedied or fixed. They can become truly make or break for a brand.

Fortunately, the world has moved on significantly from years gone past when retailers often over-promised and – quite literally – under-delivered. Today, a much more sensible approach is being taken with high-volume periods like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas.

By and large, retailers are pragmatic about what they can deliver and have, to an extent, taken the pressure off themselves. Despite same day being the new normal when it comes to fulfilment, it’s well understood that when taking advantage of a premium offer or discount, shoppers’ priority is receiving goods well ahead of the big day and not necessarily instantly.

That being said, there is still more retailers can do.

Retailers still need to keep the pace when it comes to exceeding the expectations of customers. Yes, same day is today’s standard for fulfilment, but there is still the opportunity to leverage more targeted deliveries to make the lives of customers easier. And the more retailers do this, the more loyalty and return spend they can enjoy.

So where are the opportunities to go further? One opportunity that we still see as relatively under-exploited by retail brands is around evening delivery.

Consider this; most of us are used to receiving orders and goods to our workplace. It’s become a fairly widely accepted part of working life. But we still have to cart goods home to where we actually need or use them – or arrange time out of the office if they are too bulky to easily navigate public transport with.

Alongside this, consider the legion of office managers and reception staff who act as the nation’s unofficial ‘final metre’ delivery network.

Instead, evening deliveries offer a timeslot where deliveries are made to where they are needed, first time, without adding to the life admin of people at work. Combine this with the ability for customers to select which evening suits them best and it’s a winning formula – and one that can help ease inner-city congestion levels during the day. Evening deliveries offer later cut-off times and allow better consolidation of deliveries – more efficient for retailers and better for the environment.

There are other opportunities in a similar vein. More time-specific fulfilment, Sunday deliveries and environmentally conscious options are likely to be of increasing importance in the years ahead. We remain very proud of our carbon offsetting scheme and green fleet, both of which are helping reduce the impact of our operation.

The right blend of delivery options will vary from retailer to retailer. But in an increasingly competitive retail environment, they cannot be complacent. They must continue to look for every opportunity to get the edge on competitors and offer the best possible experience to customers. In this context, fulfilment remains a critical differentiator.

In fact, delivery is not just a battleground, and in recent years it’s moved to become a fundamental element of retailers’ operating model – with brands springing up based largely around ultra-convenient fulfilment and delivery. We have seen this first-hand, with take-up of, On the dot, our specialist retail offer.

The goal posts are constantly moving. And while the temptation to offer ever more exotic and ambitious fulfilment options may be appealing, maintaining a sensible, focused attitude will prove to be more beneficial. Yes, options like evening fulfilment require effort and investment, but they are a practical option that may make sense when you consider shoppers’ lives. Many shoppers are happy with next day delivery, but according to recent research from NetDespatch, 82% want it delivered to their home.

Key to finding the right balance and blend is better understanding your offer and your customer.

Stronger insight into the shopper and customer, affords the chance to find new ways to fit in around their needs. The types of customer data today are richer than ever before and will yield valuable strategic insights if sensible questions are posed. Starting by understanding the kind of customer a brand has and the lives they lead will throw the spotlight on ways to enhance the fulfilment offer.

Secondly, and alongside this, benchmarking the current fulfilment offer against that of competitors will also uncover opportunities to stand out from the crowd.

Form all this, one thing remains clear; despite some significant improvements in delivery options in recent years, there is still more that can be done to stay ahead of customer expectation.