Quicker than you could say “shelter in place,” any prediction about 2020 was off the table when COVID-19 hit in March. And while all sectors incurred repercussions, the retail industry was one of the most tumultuous. As brick-and-mortar stores shuttered, e-commerce became king; in fact, a new forecast pegs an 18% increase in e-commerce spending for 2020.
But as regions begin to reopen, the retail world is grappling with how this “next normal” will shake out, particularly as brands consider their omnichannel mix.
That’s because shoppers run the gamut in their confidence levels related to venturing back to stores. On one end is the shopper impatient with being cooped up who can’t wait to find a bargain — and a sense of normalcy — at the mall. In the middle is the customer who is starting to resume normal habits but might currently appreciate curbside pickup or another contactless option. And finally, there is the wary consumer who prefers to play it safe by ordering for home delivery. For now, shoppers on the more cautious end of the spectrum seem to be the majority, with one survey finding that only 11% of consumers claim they would feel “very comfortable” going to a shopping mall.
So what does that mean for brands as they strive to meet their customers’ e-commerce needs?
“The post-ship experience is the new battleground for customer loyalty,” said Duncan Licence, vice president of global product at Metapack.
Let’s look at three ways brands can better manage their omnichannel post-purchase experience to best suit the needs and lifestyle of today’s shoppers.
1. Increase your delivery choices.
As e-commerce surged during the pandemic, shippers were stretched and consumers became annoyed with extensive wait times. While many delivery companies added new depots and recruited thousands of new drivers, there are other ways to help alleviate shipping roadblocks, and brands must think more innovatively about how to reduce strain on carriers, Licence said.
One key strategy is using multiple delivery channels, which also allows brands to meet a wider variety of customer preferences: Metapack’s fourth annual Global eCommerce Consumer Report found that more than half of shoppers in the United States chose to buy goods from one retailer over another specifically because of these choices.
“Like so much else, the pandemic has accelerated many of the nascent trends we were seeing,” Licence said. “Pickup points, ship from store and the decentralization of the e-commerce supply chain are essential for retailers and brands to consistently, reliably and cost-effectively meet the needs of their customers.”
He recommends offering various options on your product page and again at checkout to drive conversion and reduce basket abandonment.
2. Make returns seamless.
Returns have always been important; Metapack’s research found that nearly 70% of global shoppers looked at an e-commerce website’s return policy, and nearly half of those said a return policy had deterred them from a purchase.
But smooth returns are more important now than ever. Customers who don’t feel comfortable shopping in person aim to create a brick-and-mortar experience at home by ordering different items and sizes to try on, and even those who do want to visit a store may encounter a cumbersome process to try on clothing or find that dressing rooms are closed altogether.
One of the top ways to bolster customer loyalty and encourage purchases is by expanding your return options, which will also meet the needs of all three types of shoppers. Consider providing a label in the box so customers can ship items back directly, and then also offer quick and easy curbside and in-store capabilities for those who want more control over the process.
3. Upgrade your tracking capabilities.
Customers expect to see their items move through all stages of the journey, from ordering to delivery to potential return. Metapack’ s research found that nearly 70% of consumers said the ability to track delivery was one of their top three considerations when buying a product online, and in today’s uncertain times, customers prize clear communication and transparency even more.
A compelling post-ship experience starts with tracking and notifications, Licence said. ”The impact of this sudden surge in customer demand has gone beyond stretched supply chains, as retailers' contact centers have also borne the brunt of a significant increase in customer queries.” For example, he said one Metapack customer saw contacts increase 300% almost overnight, with nearly 40% of the calls from customers wondering where their order was.
“Updating customers and giving a self-service capability so customers can control their deliveries means fewer contacts, and also gives retailers the opportunity to market to already engaged consumers and drive repeat sales.”
One powerful solution is Metapack’s Delivery Tracker, software that offers a branded tracking portal that displays the current delivery status of customers’ orders.
“Retailers and brands can differentiate their value proposition by giving consumers accurate and timely tracking information, creating a frictionless returns experience and engaging with consumers in new ways so that they keep coming back for more,” Licence said.
The result will be customer loyalty that will endure, even when we eventually emerge to a post-pandemic world.