When the COVID-19 pandemic hit back in March, shoppers were left with no choice but to buy online, and as a result, e-commerce sales rocketed to a 10-year high. Due to new social distancing measures, retailers were left to grapple with the unprecedented demand with vastly depleted staff members. This led to huge delays in the supply chain, and many had no choice but to advise of 10+ day delays on deliveries. Some even stopped trading altogether.
With the country back in a full national lockdown, an online Christmas looks all but certain. This, plus the addition of the Brexit transition period ending on the 31st of December, means that retailers could well be facing a ‘perfect storm’ of COVID, Peak, and Brexit. After a tumultuous year, retailers need to capitalise on Christmas sales more than ever to try to build back damaged profits. This means getting the right delivery and return contingencies in place now so that you can weather the storm.
An optimum mix of carriers to provide delivery excellence
The anticipation of increased demand and strict COVID restrictions means carrier capacity is expected to be extremely limited over the festive period. Retailers need to get their forecasts into their carriers as soon as possible or risk missing out. In addition, many carriers are not taking on new customers or offering extra services. This means it is essential that retailers work with multiple carriers to ensure they have the flexibility to switch capacity should any unexpected issues arise.
To really maximise your delivery services, the best approach is to cherry-pick an optimum mix of carriers best suited for your products and customers. One such factor to consider is what steps they have taken in preparing for Brexit. Some may require a high level of product data from you; some may not have prepared at all. With the Brexit transition period coming to an end within weeks, part of your Post-Brexit contingency plan should include checking what steps your carriers have taken to ensure you can be one step ahead.
Sales-boosting delivery options at the checkout
Starved of the ability to spend time with our loved ones for much of this year means that, for some, Christmas may feel more important than ever. As such, customers will want to be reassured when ordering online that the delivery service will be reliable and convenient. Many people are still working from home, so they might not mind when their order arrives. On the other hand, key workers or those unable to work from home may prefer to nominate a day or use click and collect. And, of course, there are always those who wait until the very last minute to do their shopping! In which case, next to or same day is the only option.
Avoiding a ‘one size fits all’ approach will be beneficial for you, too, because you can switch off delivery options and manage order cut-off times depending on carrier capacity, helping prevent bottlenecks and delays.
Don’t just plan for returns, prioritise them
Some reports indicate that complaints about parcel deliveries have trebled amid the recent surge in online shopping**. Any issues with the product or the delivery can be upsetting enough, particularly if it is a gift. Having problems returning it or getting a refund only makes matters worse. As a result, returns are very much part and parcel of the e-commerce experience for customers, with 78% now checking the returns policy before choosing where to shop.*
The biggest problem with returns is not knowing what is being returned or why. Not only this, but returns cost retailers up to a massive £60bn per year! Improving your visibility over your supply chain will help you better prepare, meaning you can offer a quicker outcome for the customer and get any sellable stock back out to market. Team this with technology that allows your customers to track the item themselves, and you will not only have happier customers, but you will save time managing their queries.
An affordable multi-carrier solution fit for uncertain times
The pandemic has shone a light on the lack of contingency planning within many retailers’ processes. Those who faired the best during the first wave were the ones who had the flexibility to adjust their business models according to demand. This means planning as early as possible and using more than one carrier so that your deliveries are covered no matter what happens. Not only this, but retailers must look to build that optimum mix of carriers, balancing the ones that best suit their products and customers with the cost to them.
All this is easier for larger retailers who have the infrastructure and budgets already in place – but for smaller retailers, managing multiple carriers can be time-consuming and costly. This often leaves them struggling to compete. For many, the answer is to enlist the services of a single multi-carrier and logistics expert to manage all their shipping needs on their behalf. Doing so means you only have one relationship to maintain rather than multiple carrier contracts. This way, you can be assured that your customers are getting the range of delivery services they require at the most competitive rates – helping you to step into uncertain times with more confidence.
*IMRG returns review 2020