Can the doorstep experience improve e-commerce?

By David Upton, Managing Director, DA Systems Ltd.

Ever been into a shop or a restaurant because of a belief that the resulting brand experience would be exceptional?  Possibly it was as a result of seeing some advertising, or a recommendation from friends?  However, was the illusion of excellence completely shattered when you sampled the brand for real?

This is one of the challenges retailers have to face when managing the shopping experience customers get after buying online. It's what marketers refer to as the 'moment of truth'.  Let's consider the example of a luxury brand with a multichannel model. You want to buy an expensive sweater from an exclusive fashion retailer online. If you go into their Bond Street store, you experience the exclusivity of their brand first-hand, complete with scented tissue paper and a designer bag.

Online it's a different story. The same item is delivered to your doorstep, but instead of the manicured shop assistant completing the transaction, you are greeted by an unkempt deliveryman, with dirty fingernails. It's a convenient way to shop, but maybe that sweater isn't quite so posh now after all. The same brand, selling goods for the same price, but via two channels, which results in a very different end experience for the consumer.

For many retailers, getting e-commerce right centres exclusively around the shopping experience. This means optimising website performance, offering click and collect options, integrating the Internet with stores or managing returns across multiple channels. These are all very relevant and important to get right and should not be neglected. However, the increasing rate at which consumers are switching to online and mobile channels for their shopping, means there is another area for retailers and pure e-tailers to consider: how to maximise the doorstep experience.

The doorstep experience is one of the hardest aspects of an e-commerce sale to perfect, primarily because last mile delivery is almost always subcontracted to a third party over which you have limited control. But this is perhaps one of the most important and leaves a lasting memory for consumers. Retailers therefore need to examine their delivery partners' processes and ensure the customer's doorstep experiences are in keeping with the expectations they have of their brand as a whole.

When customers order online, they expect to get the right goods delivered in a timely manner. Think of all the time and effort that goes into manufacturing the goods and securing the sale, only for an item to get lost on its way to the customer. To avoid this from happening, goods need to be tracked in real-time, from the time they leave the warehouse to when they finally arrive at the customer's doorstep.

By offering customers full visibility and traceability, retailers can ensure goods do not get lost in transit and that the customer is informed of when to expect their delivery. Retailers achieve this by partnering with parcel delivery experts and ensuring their own processes are efficient and effective for everyone. From the customer's perspective, the fact that a parcel is going to be late is a problem, but having advance warning of issues at least gives them back an element of control and turns a negative into a positive customer relations experience.

For pure e-tailers, the doorstep experience is even more essential.  Quite often the consumer's only experience or physical contact when dealing with an e-retailer is when the item is delivered. If the user experience is good, they will buy again. If it is bad, it's your reputation, not the parcel delivery company that is affected.

When identifying parcel delivery specialists to partner with, multichannel retailers and e-tailers should find out how the companies responsible for delivering parcels can help them to maximise their doorstep experience. Things to look out for are, for example, how a parcel delivery company can optimise the number of deliveries possible in the most efficient way. This is because the more deliveries they are able to make, the quicker your customers can potentially take receipt of parcels, without having to pay more for express delivery services. In addition, what additional customer service options does the parcel delivery company offer? For instance, do they have the ability to text a customer with an ETA of when to expect a delivery? Or do they allow the customer to make changes to the delivery location? All these are important "value adds" that customers increasingly expect when they are buying online.

The most successful multichannel retailers have real-time mobile data software that underpins the efficiency of the retailer's daily deliveries from distribution centres right through to the doorstep. They use branded software to monitor items and capture real-time data like tracking where a parcel is in the delivery cycle and providing accurate data with real business and customer value. Working in this way, a retailer can ensure delivery windows for ecommerce orders are met, by setting pre-defined criteria that alert you to avoid breaches, so your customer service team can proactively respond. All these things add up to achieving a great doorstep experience that reinforces the brand and increases the likelihood of repeat business.

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