When you set up an e-commerce business, there are integral elements that need to be in place. A product to sell, a platform to sell it on and publicity in the general market place – all pretty obvious things that I doubt many people would overlook.
There is however another essential part of the model that can be neglected, which is key in both your service and reputation and can go a long way in determining whether your venture succeeds or fails: Delivery.
Why delivery counts
In these days of an oversaturated online retail market, potential customers look for something that defines you from your competitors. Product is obviously important, and if you manufacture your own goods then this will be a big factor, but as it becomes increasingly easy to shop around for a bargain, businesses need to find other ways to build brand loyalty above and beyond price.
This is where delivery comes in. Fast, efficient and affordable delivery, with a good returns policy plays a huge part in the whole customer experience – your product might be perfect, but if your delivery model is too expensive, takes too long or is inconvenient, your customers will go elsewhere.
The key here is not just speed, but more importantly about managing customer expectations.
Drawing out a schedule for the whole process can really help, from the point of the customer clicking ‘buy’ to the point at which the goods will arrive on their doorstep.
Things to take into account are the time of day the order is placed and how that ties in with staffing; how long it takes to locate, pick and pack the order; the time until the order is actually handed over to your delivery provider; and how long it will take your provider to get it to the door.
With all of these elements it’s best to opt for a ‘worst case scenario’ situation to establish how long delivery will take. If you find that you’re generally beating that estimation that’s fine, customers will always prefer something to be early rather than late.
If super fast delivery is key to your business model Next Day Delivery is something you should consider – it’s obviously more expensive but there are a number of providers, from the Post Office through to private courier companies, so research cost and more importantly reputation – we’ve all heard the Yodel horror stories, and it’ll be you who gets it in the neck if orders turn up broken, or worse still don’t turn up at all.
It’s always annoying when you find something online at a good price only to have a huge delivery charge added to the bill just before clicking ‘buy’. The question for the business owner is how to manage these costs and there are a few things to consider.
Firstly, make sure you’re upfront about your costs if you are going to charge. Secondly, how much? Depending on your product range, you’ll need to decide whether to charge a flat rate for all parcels – in which case you’ll need to do some sums to make sure you’re charging an average – or to incorporate a sliding scale dependent on product size and weight.
Offering different delivery options also gives the customer the freedom to choose their service dependent on cost and timescales i.e. Next Day, normal delivery, super saver delivery.
Should you decide to absorb delivery costs and essentially provide a free service to your customers, you’ll need to make sure this is factored into your business plan, as it will become a key expense.
Another option is to essentially incorporate the cost of delivery into the product price, so that whilst you’re not actually adding delivery cost to the customer invoice, the cost is being covered in the sale of the product.
Shopping online is all about convenience, so your delivery should reflect this. Allowing delivery to a different address from the billing address is integral – especially if you’re going to use a sign-for service.
There’s nothing more frustrating than buying something online, delivery being attempted whilst you’re at work, and then having to drive into town to collect it at the weekend. And there’s a huge range of services available, from the very basic Post Office 1st Class, through to couriers who’ll confirm every step by text/email, such as the expected delivery time and the name of the delivery driver.
A lot of online sales fall under the ‘distance selling’ act, which stipulates that customers have a legal right to return the goods during a ‘cooling-off’ period – to find out more please visit the Citizens Advice website. So there’s a legal obligation in many cases, but there should also be a customer relation element and again this is where delivery comes into play.
The key question here being, whether to offer free returns or not. If you do, you’ll need to incorporate a free returns label in with the original order, and again factor this into your business plan. If you don’t, it’s worth considering Collect+ which will allow customers to return parcels from as little as £4.89 from 5,500 locations nationwide.
There’s lots of options out there and regardless of what you choose to offer you should always ensure that your Terms and Conditions are clearly stated on both your site and email correspondence. And if you’re not sure what to go for, the best thing to do is research your competitors – place orders, check out their packaging, estimated delivery times, delivery providers and returns – that way you know what you’re up against and where you should be concentrating your efforts.
This article is by Chinny Ogbuagu, a Content Marketer at Pitney Bowes Ltd. She writes content to advise and help businesses connect with customers and grow their brand. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.