Shipping can be one of the most stressful parts of an online transaction. The customer has already paid for a product, but does not actually have it in hand. And the retailer — devoted to excellent customer service — has no control over the carrier.
In spite of this, there are some commonsense steps a retailer can take to at least help the customer feel more comfortable with the process. Here are seven simple ways to improve a customer’s shipping experience.
1. Provide an Estimated Delivery Date
At checkout, some 60 percent of online shoppers want to see either an estimated delivery date or — better yet — a guaranteed delivery date for each available shipping option, according to a 2012 comScore report.
Although it may seem like showing an estimated shipping date would be commonsense, this is still a feature that many online stores are missing.
Imagine the shopper who is buying a birthday present for her nephew. His birthday is Saturday. She’s ordering on Wednesday. Does she need FedEx 2nd Day? UPS overnight? Would USPS Priority Mail work? Without delivery dates, she cannot really make a good decision. If she has a limited budget that would exclude the overnight option, she might just decide to shop elsewhere or pick a less expensive item.
2. Double Up on Shipping Notifications
Shipping notification emails are typically no big deal when they arrive. When a customer receives one, he might just glance at it and delete it. Maybe he will let it linger in his inbox or a folder in case something happens. But for the most part it gets little attention. But if that shipping notification email doesn’t show up at all, that customer may call the retailer, believing something has gone wrong.
In addition to notifications from the retailer, FedEx, the U.S. Post Office, and UPS all offer their own email notifications, too. It can be a good idea to double up on these, meaning that both the retailer and the carrier send the customer an email. If one notification gets tangled in a spam filter, the other one might make it through. Plus, the FedEx or Post Office notification reinforces the merchant’s own message.
Often these secondary emails can be created by the retailer right along with the label.
3. Offer SMS Updates
Text messages — which are more formally known as SMS — are incredibly popular. On a typical day American mobile phone users will collectively send and receive more than 6 billion of them, according to Forrester. What’s more certain customer segments prefer SMS to email.
Infrastructure-as-a-service companies like Twilio make it relatively easy to send shoppers SMS order and shipping notifications. It is little more than commonsense to give shoppers the option to receive SMS notifications too. This is especially thoughtful considering that roughly 11 percent of ecommerce sales come from mobile devices.
4. Provide Many Shipping Options
“Online shoppers have a range of time they are willing to wait for the delivery of their orders,” explained comScore in its Online Shopping Customer Experience Study. “Retailers that offer a range of delivery time options allow themselves to appeal to a wider range of customers. While 48 percent of customers stated that they are not willing to wait more than five days for most of their purchases, 23 percent said they would be willing to wait eight days or more.”
No two customers are exactly the same. Providing a number of shipping options and a variety of carriers could increase conversions.
5. Streamline Processing
Despite the comScore study on tolerable shipping times, faster is still better.
Try to streamline order fulfillment, minimizing the time between when an order is placed and when that order is shipped. There are typically a couple of common bottlenecks.
Make sure that those who do the packing are notified immediately when an order is placed. In small retail businesses where employees have more than one job to do, consider using SMS or even an automated phone call to notify the packer.
Streamline the packing process too. For example, have plenty of box sizes, easy packing materials, and easy-to-use tape dispensers, so that the physical task of packing goes more quickly.
Even label-specific printers can help to improve speed.
6. Offer Reliable, Helpful Online Tracking Information
Three quarters of online shoppers said that order-tracking information was an important service, again according to comScore.
Let customers have plenty of options for package tracking, including on-site tracking, links to the carrier’s site for tracking, and the ability to track orders from mobile devices.
7. Offer Some Form of Free Shipping
More than half of the leading U.S. online retailers offered some form of free shipping in the 2012 holiday season, and some 73 percent of online shoppers wanted a free shipping option, according to comScore.
Consider offering free basic ground services from FedEx or UPS with a minimum order.