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Reimagining eCommerce Fulfillment Strategies in 2024

Blog Post
A thorough CX strategy involves every aspect of the business and every touchpoint the customer has with the brand.
happy african american man unboxing a package at home

By Laura Ritchey
CEO, Radial 

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by UK-based Retail Insight Network on the changing retail landscape and its impact on fulfillment operations. I thought I’d share some further insights here. It’s not news that pandemic disruptions demanded major shifts in retail, some of which have evolved into new ways of doing business. Continuing macroeconomic pressure and a US election year is expected to soften market demand; it’s important to evaluate and reimagine eCommerce fulfillment strategies in light of resilience, its broader impact on customer experience, and profitability.  

We often talk about customer experience (CX) to the point that it’s lost some of its impact. But CX continues to be the primary differentiator across most industries. Getting to a point of true differentiation can be challenging, particularly as retailers must walk a finer line with profitability in today’s market. A thorough CX strategy involves every aspect of the business and every touchpoint the customer has with the brand. Much of this happens in order fulfillment.  

Unboxing Delight with Every Delivery 

The first priority in fulfillment operations must be reliability — table stakes for meeting customer expectations. Customer loyalty is generated by a seamless brand experience, from click to delivery. When you deliver successfully, you meet or exceed the customer’s expectations and that should always be the goal. At Radial, we utilize a variety of strategies including automation, robotics, a human workforce with deep industry expertise, personalization, and strong partnerships with carriers to meet customer expectations for a reliable delivery experience.  

But we don’t stop there. We know there are fulfillment providers that simply package products up in brown boxes and get them out the door. While they may meet delivery deadlines, what kind of experience is that for customers? It can feel a lot like having someone just toss you the item you ordered, with very little care. At Radial, we believe our retail customers can and should deliver a better experience than that delighting the customer every time. And we partner with them to achieve it.  

We believe the unboxing experience is secondary only to order accuracy and on-time delivery. Think about it: this is the only time where it is guaranteed that a customer will open and engage with your product and brand communications. Brands should make the most of this moment, not only to support a delightful CX, but to encourage loyalty and additional spend. Adding personalization and investing in a bit more care and personalization in the unboxing experience goes a long way to making a lasting impression and to making a customer feel valued. Radial offers brands a variety of ways to improve and customize a branded unboxing experience.  

Prioritizing Collaboration in the Supply Chain 

The last few years have drilled home the value and necessity of real-time, end-to-end supply chain visibility. But it’s not just about being able to see the status of orders, where disruptions or potential problems are arising, or being able to agilely adapt and steer towards success. In the past, every part of the supply chain process was transactional. Each player did its part and that’s all it had to do. Visibility is necessary, but it’s not enough. Today, we have learned the imperative of collaboration.  

The supply chain is increasingly seen as more holistic and has greater pressures on it that foster a need for collaboration. This point was driven home during Peak 2023 when some retailers were disappointed by logistics partners that had not cultivated the communication, transparency, accountability, and flexibility required across the supply chain. Current supply/demand and inflation pressures in the shipping and transportation industry impact retailers as well. There is an endless array of aspects that require collaboration to ensure resiliency against future disruptions. As a third-party logistics (3PL) provider with 30 years in the industry, Radial has seen this shift happen and we see retailers benefiting from deeper relationships with partners. We feel those benefits, too.  

If you aren’t experiencing collaboration with a partner, I encourage you to discuss it with them. If a partner is unwilling to prioritize collaboration, you may need to reevaluate the relationship and look for a partner with a proven history of taking a collaborative approach. No retailer today can afford otherwise.  

Scaling to Meet Shifting Customer Expectations 

The industry is also experiencing some fundamental shifts in customer experience. Until recently, eCommerce order fulfillment was mostly driven by standards set by Amazon. Two-day delivery has been the norm as customers preferred fast, free delivery. The pandemic slowed everyone down and Radial research finds that today’s customers are focusing more on reliable, affordable delivery than on speed – a major change and example of customer-led change.  

But customers are also shaping expectations by what they refuse to adapt to as well. Last year, 81% of retailers tried to offset the rising costs of reverse logistics by charging for returns and 53% saw a drop in return rates. Customers pushed back, and 48% of retailers saw a decrease in average order value and in overall sales. This year, 41% of those retailers report they will discontinue charging for returns. What do these shifting customer expectations mean for retailers and order fulfillment operations?  

First, slower shipping eases the strain on the carrier industry and helps address ESG issues with fewer trucks on the road and less environmental impact. But it also means retailers and fulfillment providers need to adjust their operations. Slowing down may sound positive, and it certainly can be — but there will always be customers that want fast delivery; the processes you have in place need to be able to scale. This can get tricky without the infrastructure, personnel, technology, automation, and partnerships to support it. Likewise, we see the same with changing returns dynamics.  

Fulfillment operations hinge on scalability, as retailers must be able to adapt, scale, and do so without missing a beat on customer experience. Retailers can take control of delivery management with modern systems that track orders in real-time and optimize the final mile, and they also need to partner more closely with their 3PL to achieve a balance of profitability and exceptional CX.  

At Radial, we want and need our eCommerce clients to communicate often and transparently. We prioritize staying on the same page so we know when to anticipate peaks and valleys, and scale accordingly. Again, this requires collaboration — which is supported when both parties use modern technology and systems that share information, as Radial offers our clients. We have the infrastructure and modernization to meet delivery and CX expectations on every time scale, and we value and maintain a collaborative approach with our clients.  

Becoming Responsive 

The retail industry has experienced an intense few years where most operated in reactionary mode. eCommerce grew exponentially during a very chaotic time. Retailers have learned valuable lessons — and so have their logistics partners — and are now positioning themselves to be responsive to disruption, not reactionary. This is the key to resilience.  

If you need support in becoming resilient and improving your CX, Radial would love to partner with you.  

As CEO of Radial North America, a bpost company, Laura Ritchey builds on her extensive experience and leadership, continuing her commitment to innovating and optimizing eCommerce solutions. You can follow Laura on LinkedIn.

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