How the rise in e-commerce has made delivery drivers the new front of house

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By Jack Underwood, founder and CEO of Circuit

Underwood: retailers need to invest in front of house teams

When the pandemic rewrote the rules of everyday life, online retail became a lifeline for consumers and businesses alike. But coronavirus did more than increase the volume of online sales: it changed our relationship to e-commerce and reshaped the entire customer journey. One aspect of this has been the elevation of the role of delivery drivers, transformed from couriers to brand ambassadors. It’s a simple shift but a seismic one, and one that has massive implications for e-commerce companies. If retailers want to remain competitive then they can’t afford to ignore the evolved role of delivery or the new tools needed to navigate this change.

It will come as no surprise that online shopping dramatically increased over the past year but the figures are still staggering. According to a survey published by Natwest and Retail Economics, online retail sales saw the equivalent of five years’ growth in just 12 months in 2020 and the ONS found that 35.2% of all retail sales this January took place online. With online sales being the chief way many consumers will now interact with a brand, the e-commerce experience has had to replace all aspects of a physical store. Social media posts are the new window displays, websites are the new bricks and mortar, and delivery drivers, the only in-person contact a customer will have, are the new front of house.

This last element poses a big problem for retailers. The delivery stage of the customer journey is underdeveloped and ill-equipped to deal with the uncertainty that is unavoidably part and parcel of sending a package. Order delays and customer absences come with the territory but consumers quickly get frustrated if changes aren’t communicated, delivery times aren’t detailed, there’s no option to talk to the driver, or if packages are abandoned in inappropriate locations. These negative experiences sour brand perception and, as delivery is often the final point of contact between brand and consumer, they have a long-lasting effect.

If retailers want to maintain a positive brand image and protect and improve sales, they need to invest in their new front of house teams. As it stands, it’s as if e-commerce companies have hired a group of in-store assistants but have handed them a POS system from ten years ago and are wondering why it’s difficult to do a good job. They need to be finding new ways to support delivery teams and give them the tools required to properly serve customers and fulfil their role as brand ambassadors.

These tools involve innovative technology that smooths the uneven delivery experience. It means sending a customer detailed delivery information so they don’t have to put their day on hold for one drop off. It means giving them a medium to directly connect with drivers for last-minute updates and to inform them of any issues. It means investing in software that optimises routes and van organisation so customers can get their parcels faster and deliveries aren’t held back by inefficiency and unnecessary delays.

But it’s not just about serving the needs of the consumer. Tools that make deliveries easier are crucial for driver satisfaction and this can’t be ignored if they are to represent your brand. The online shift is about recognising delivery drivers as an integral part of a company’s customer service team and treating them accordingly. This means supporting them with the best technology to do their job, having an oversight of their day-to-day and being able to connect with them easily and directly throughout their shift. Forward-thinking companies will be looking to reinforce this new role still further and whitelabel communications between delivery drivers and customers to firmly establish drivers as part of their front of house team.

The ability to serve customers online has saved businesses in the pandemic but it would be a mistake to think it’s left the retail landscape unchanged. The shift has given new weight and responsibility to elements of e-commerce and especially to the delivery stage. If retailers want to survive in this competitive, altered world then they need to be proactive about this process and give drivers and customers the support they need.