Last mile limbo: why retailers need to wake up to the post-purchase opportunity

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By Andrew Gough, VP of sales at HelloDone

With the demand for e-commerce growing exponentially, the pandemic has thrown the customer experience online into the spotlight. Retailers have work to do. And if you’re not sure where to look, the ‘last mile’ is flashing red. 

As COVID-19 continues to affect consumer behaviours, e-commerce retailers have been scrambling to keep up with our changing needs. A recent survey by KPMG showed that 67% of decision-makers accelerated their digital transformation strategies because of COVID-19. 

Aiming to address falling revenue and disrupted supply chains, retailers are turbocharging their shift to digital. So why are consumer expectations still not being met? Two words: post-purchase. 

Where is my order?

The evidence is plain to see in our latest research which analysed 3,000 one-star reviews across 150 major UK retailers on Trustpilot. More than half (55%) of customer complaints were attributed to issues with delivery and returns.

Orders not arriving was the most commonly cited problem, accounting for nearly half (48%) of all reviews that mentioned delivery, while late delivery (17%) was the second most common complaint. 

The highest proportion of post-purchase problems reported were among retailers in the fashion (68%), sports & leisure (51%) and specialist (49%) categories. Fashion (28%) and sports & leisure (17%) also had the most mentions of returns in their reviews.

Beyond the buy button 

As more of us do our shopping online than ever before, customers have come to expect big things from internet retailers. But our findings show that the post-purchase experience has failed to keep pace with these growing demands. 

A retailer’s relationship with a customer doesn’t end at the ‘thanks for your order!’ email. Last-mile delivery, as well as exchange and returns processes, require the same care and attention paid to the checkout stage of the buyer journey. 

A major source of frustration for shoppers is a lack of information about their order and the inability to contact customer support when problems arise. In fact, our research found that more than a quarter of one-star reviews (27%) on Trustpilot expressed dissatisfaction with customer service response. 

If retailers want to retain loyalty and nurture repeat business, it’s clear they have to massively improve the way they communicate with their customers.

AI answers

In an ideal world, of course, every delivery would reach the customer on time and in pristine condition. But logistics is a complex business. So what can retailers do to improve the customer experience after the buy button? 

The solution lies in the latest AI technology. Thanks to advances in natural language processing, retailers can now harness conversational AI technology to automate common requests, such as WISMOs (Where is My Order?), and provide proactive status updates to keep customers informed. 

This presents the opportunity for quick, real-time notifications and delivery alerts, as well as intelligent and contextualised answers to order FAQs, creating a memorable, hyper-personified experience for customers.

Not only does this reduce the overall volume of inbound requests, but frees up customer service agents to handle the most complex and sensitive tickets. By embracing this technology to improve customer communication, retailers can provide enhanced support and leave shoppers with a good impression of their brand – even when there are issues to resolve. 

The power of post-purchase 

Forward-thinking retailers are already taking ownership of the post-purchase experience, using context-driven AI technology to power personalised conversations with their customers and manage expectations when things go wrong. 

But the e-commerce industry is yet to wake up to the scale of the post-purchase opportunity. 

It’s amazing to think of the time and money brands spend engaging and attracting a customer online, only to abandon them after the checkout. 

Brands are responsible for the entire purchase journey. No matter who is in charge of getting deliveries to the customer’s door, it’s the retailer’s reputation on the line.

Investment in customer communications then must be at the forefront of decision making in an increasingly online-first retail landscape. 

Using AI, brands can change the ‘last mile’ from a deep rooted frustration for shoppers into a competitive differentiator. By being readily available to customers, retailers can not only survive but thrive in this brave new world.