Retailers can have the best product, price, and eCommerce site, but if their order fulfillment and delivery times do not meet customer needs and expectations, they will likely lose customers and may not get them back. While it doesn’t get much attention, optimizing the eCommerce fulfillment process is as important to customer sales and loyalty as marketing and rewards programs.
What Customers Care About
The customer experience includes every customer touchpoint with a brand. It is both subjective and objective—it’s how it feels to a customer and is measurable by customer satisfaction (CSAT) score, net promoter score (NPS), and other metrics. But overall, eCommerce businesses must tend to every aspect of the customer experience—from the front end (e.g., website, sales, and marketing), back end (e.g., customer checkout and order fulfillment), and post-sales experience (e.g., reverse logistics and customer support). Every part needs to be optimized to create a holistic, positive brand experience. What does this look like to customers?
- Available products at the best price points
- Multiple eCommerce fulfillment options to get the product in a way that best suits their preferences
- Multiple shipping options, such as free, two-day, and same-day, with costs clearly stated upfront
- Fast, easy, and convenient return policies
- Clear and quick ways to connect with customer support and with options to self-serve
- Nothing hidden and everything, including policies and reward programs, stated upfront
The reality is that for most omnichannel retail customers, choosing a merchant is a matter of finding the right combination of product availability, price point, shipping cost, delivery time, and return policy. When they can find all five in one place, they buy. When they discover that they can count on an exceptional experience with a retailer, they become loyal customers. Amazon Prime is an example of building customer loyalty through consistently delivering on all five touchpoints and demonstrating to customers that they can expect this experience every time they buy. Shopping with their favorite retailers becomes a habit because customers know they can get what they want, when they want it, and that they’ll have a consistent experience. Ultimately, it saves customers time and makes shopping convenient—factors that drive loyalty.
While Amazon set and established the standards of eCommerce customer expectations, advances in technology have made it possible for nearly every eCommerce retailer to compete with them. The supply chain disruptions customers have experienced in recent years have taught them to look beyond their go-to brands to find the best combination of buying conditions. Customers care less about the brand-name of retailers and more about what they can deliver. This means even smaller online retailers can effectively compete with Amazon—as long as they can replicate the buying experience. It also means every brand has the potential to lure customers away from competitors by offering a better experience.
Order Fulfillment and Delivery Can Make or Break Conversions
At first glance, one would assume that having an intuitive, easy-to-use eCommerce website with great products and pricing is most important to converting browsers into buyers. But if your eCommerce fulfillment, shipping costs, and delivery times can follow through on that seamless shopping experience, it won’t matter. In fact, order fulfillment and delivery times are core factors to customers when they’re making purchasing decisions online, with 41% ranking fast and reliable delivery as a top consideration. Furthermore, if an order doesn’t arrive within two days of a retailer’s promised delivery date, 69% of consumers say they are unlikely to shop with that retailer again.
Consider the following scenarios from a customer’s perspective:
- Scenario #1: You search for a product online and find a retailer that has it available. The price is acceptable, but you have to add it to your shopping cart and start the checkout process to discover the shipping costs and speeds. The shipping cost is more than you want to pay, so you abandon the cart to go look for another retailer with better shipping.
This abandoned cart triggers an automated notification sequence which then emails you a reminder to complete your purchase. Without realizing it, this retailer has not only failed to provide an attractive shipping cost but has also annoyed you with further communication. Not good.
- Scenario #2: You search for a product online and find a retailer that has it at the price you want. They make it clear on their site that you must spend at least $50 to qualify for free shipping. Your product costs $19.99. You have no desire to buy something else just to pay for shipping, so you move on.
- Scenario #3: You search for a product online and find a retailer that has it available, in stock, at the price you want, with free two-day delivery. the company tells you upfront that returns are easy and hassle-free, and their customer service number is on the same page. They also offer multiple fulfillment options to fit your lifestyle. You know everything you need to know to decide to buy before you add the product to your cart. You check out and receive timely notifications updating you on order and shipping status. The package arrives when they said it would—accurate and complete.
In these scenarios, number three is obviously the preferred customer experience. Everything is declared upfront, made easy, has the lowest overall cost and customer effort, and the order fulfillment process and delivery times meet expectations.
Now, which of these three retailers are you most likely to buy from again?
Optimizing order fulfillment and delivery and providing that information to the customer before they convert creates a shopping experience that feels easy and effortless.
How to Optimize eCommerce Fulfillment and Delivery
Ecommerce companies have the option of operating their own order fulfillment process, outsourcing it to a third party logistics (3PL) company, or doing both.
- Own and operate it: Running the entire order fulfillment process means owning or renting warehouses or fulfillment centers; hiring, training, and managing fulfillment process staff; and negotiating contracts with carriers. Retailers that own and operate their own order fulfillment are responsible for all aspects of it and incur the full costs of operation.
- Outsource it: Retailers can outsource all or part of their fulfillment process to eCommerce fulfillment providers who own and operate fulfillment centers and have expertise in fulfillment services. They specialize in operating efficiently, at lower costs, and often utilize retail robotics to automate picking and packing and other fulfillment workflows which enables them to scale and work faster.
Leading fulfillment companies utilize modern inventory visibility and management technology that delivers real-time insight into inventory and integrates with retailers’ existing systems. Customer orders are easily tracked across the entire fulfillment process. Fulfillment providers also negotiate contracts and rates with shipping carriers and can optimize the final mile to lower and control costs.
Depending on the provider, some own and maintain their own transportation fleet and have global fulfillment centers to keep inventory closer to customers. Additionally, they have the capacity to support store fulfillment options with omnichannel order management systems that create transparency, real-time inventory visibility, and streamlined order fulfillment strategies.
Loyal Customers Increase Sales
The bottom line for improving loyalty for eCommerce customers is to ensure that order fulfillment and delivery meet and exceed their expectations. Satisfied customers create repeat business. Optimized eCommerce fulfillment that provides order accuracy, fast shipping, multiple delivery options, and an easy returns process leads to high levels of customer satisfaction. In addition to being loyal, happy customers promote the brands they love and, in today’s environment, that’s the best way to stay ahead of the competition.