Bridging logistics efficiency with customer experience

Online consumers want to be in control at every stage in the buying cycle and nowhere more so than when selecting their delivery and returns options. Fulfilling customer expectations so that they come back for more is what differentiates e-commerce retailers in today’s competitive market. Those that are succeeding have their fulfilment ducks in a row, with a logistics strategy that incorporates every stage from live inventory and reporting to order visibility and returns management.

E-commerce retailers already know that, by offering a range of delivery options that they can fulfil 100 per cent of the time, they will drive more website conversions. But providing delivery choice is just one part of the story. The entire delivery experience is pivotal to forging the long-term satisfaction that differentiates a retail brand and keeps customers loyal.

Transparency is key

Customers also expect consistent, clear communications, starting on the product page itself; in a consumer survey we carried out last year, 83 per cent of shoppers told us they expect to see delivery options clearly displayed on the same web page as the product they want to order. Customers also expect an order acknowledgement; 93 per cent emphasised the importance of receiving an email corroboration from a retailer to confirm their order had been received. What’s more, 88 per cent of all survey respondents said they track the status of their online order.

And this is where the real game-changer in logistics efficiency for outbound delivery lies. Retailers are increasingly providing services that not only allow consumers to track their orders, but also to make changes to their delivery arrangements at any time until their product arrives. These ‘in-flight’ adjustments are made possible through enhanced logistics services offered by carriers. Understandably, this option is being met with great enthusiasm by customers.

Another recent innovation being adopted by retailers is to use despatch scans in the warehouse to trigger messaging to the consumer. As a product leaves, the consumer is connected with the start of its journey, and then has visibility of its progress through the tracking mechanism on the retailer’s website so that they know exactly where it is and when it will arrive at its destination. Underpinning these advances, is technology that has been designed not only to enhance operational efficiency but to extend that to improve the experience of the customer.

Are you meeting your customers' expectations?

But expectations don’t stop with delivery and shrewd retailers are putting as much emphasis on the efficiency of their returns management strategy, which now plays an equally crucial part in customer satisfaction and loyalty. Putting a label onto a parcel and stipulating a single mode of transport no longer meets today’s consumer requirements. With customers now treating their homes as their fitting rooms, retailers have had to step up and provide a more streamlined returns procedure which also helps them to get their own goods back into circulation quickly.

According to the MetaPack research, 81 per cent of consumers say that they would buy more online if the returns procedures were simpler. Consumers want reassurance if they change their minds and as many as 71 per cent of UK respondents check the returns policy of a retailer before placing an order.

So retailers have optimised returns management and now offer a number of choices, as they do for delivery: home collection, leaving the parcel at a collection point etc. This is vital for keeping consumers connected directly to retailers’ websites, choosing for themselves the return method that suits them best.

But there are immense benefits in this for retailers too, depending on the logistics process they are using for returns. Traditional processes include standard collections via an end-to-end service with delivery to an agreed point. Or consolidation, whereby a variety of returned goods are collected and bulk shipped back to the retailer. Neither of these options provide the retailer with visibility of the product on its return journey, or even a set time when it will arrive.

Reverse logistics

The smarter process, however, is reverse logistics, which focuses on granular information about where the items are at any given point. The advantage to the retailer is that they will be informed when the goods are picked up from the customer and this will trigger the issuing of a refund immediately. This level of efficiency keeps the customer engaged in the process and more likely to spend their refund on another product from that retailer. In addition, the retailer can track the status of the returned parcel in real time and anticipate when it will be available to put back into stock. They also have the flexibility to re-route the product so it can be delivered to a store, or be incorporated in a promotional campaign, for example.

The systems that enable this level of detail on the movement of products to and from customers allow retailers to analyse reports and identify any problems in the distribution chain. If an item is constantly being returned by customers, the reports will highlight this, giving retailers the opportunity to nip an issue in the bud before it becomes a problem and impacts the bottom line.

Whatever the size of the e-commerce operation, it is the flexibility and strength of the e-commerce logistics strategy and the underlying technology that creates the bridge between operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Kees de Vos, Chief Product & Marketing Officer, MetaPack