Conversions are the obsession of every online retailer that aspires to sell more and reap greater profits. However, often a seller will factor in the marketing and sales funnels that lead up to the point of conversion and relax about everything that follows. After all, you’ve made the sale, so your job is done. Right?
Even if your business relies on one-and-done customers, a bad post-conversion experience is inevitably going to lead to poor customer satisfaction and major damage to your brand reputation — damage that will cause those much-need conversions to dry up. And shipping is a core part of forming the difference between a bad ecommerce experience and a good one.
But how should you approach shipping? What do customers expect? What options do they need, and how do they want them to be presented?
In this piece, we’re going to look into what ecommerce customers want from online shipping, and consider how you can improve your shipping system to keep your customers happy.
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Table of Contents
How Amazon changed the game
In its path from bookstore to retail juggernaut, Amazon brought a now-standard level of service to the ecommerce world — it just doesn’t feel that way because it’s hard to imagine doing without it in today’s world.
Amazon didn’t rest on its laurels, however. It kept innovating, ramping up the convenience to levels that its competitors simply couldn’t hope to match.
Just look at the options available to an Amazon buyer today — there’s next-day delivery, one-day delivery, Amazon lockers, and even same-day delivery in some cases. And with Amazon Prime Air still in development, who knows when it might change the game again?
The key takeaway from this isn’t just that Amazon is amazing, but that its existence has significantly raised the pressure on all other ecommerce businesses. If you’re going to be successful selling online, it’s going to be through finding ways to approach the Amazon standard.
The presence of different shipping priorities
The Amazon way of using advanced (and expensive) distribution networks to achieve high-speed shipping isn’t the only way to go about things, however.
It’s entirely possible to approach things from the other end of the spectrum, prioritizing cost over speed. This is what overseas retailers such as AliExpress can do for western consumers.
Order something on AliExpress, and it might not arrive for weeks, or even months — but the epacket shipping cost will be extremely low. If you know you’ll need something eventually but it isn’t urgent and you can afford to wait 12 weeks if necessary, then using inexpensive or free shipping from an area with lower product costs is a great way to proceed.
The point is that Amazon doesn’t have an insurmountable shipping dominance. By finding different approaches that focus on things other than speed, a retailer can compete with Amazon despite being fundamentally unable to rival its primary strengths.
Of course, some retailers choose not to compete at all, relying on third-party fulfilment or dropshipping. But you can’t stand out with dropshipping.
If you want to excel, you need a shipping system that’s all your own.
Why you need to offer versatility
So, having looked at the approaches of Amazon and AliExpress, what can we glean about what ecommerce customers will expect from your shipping?
Well, at a minimum, they’ll expect comparable options, even if they’re not of the same quality. Your primary focus should be on providing versatility — here’s what I mean:
1. Offer a top-speed option
What’s the maximum shipping speed you can guarantee? That’s what you need to use here. It matters less how fast it is and more how reliable it is.
Look at it this way: if a customer expects something on Tuesday and it doesn’t arrive until Wednesday, they’ll be frustrated. If they expect it on Thursday instead, then that Wednesday arrival will come as a pleasant surprise.
2. Offer a low-cost option
If someone just wants to pay as little on shipping as possible, this is the option they’ll choose. If you don’t include a low-cost shipping option, then it will do more than deter buyers on a budget — it will also make your top-speed option feel less useful and more unavoidable.
3. Offer a specified day option.
Depending on scheduling, someone might care less about the speed of a delivery and more about knowing specifically when it will happen. If you’re 99% sure that you can deliver something by Thursday, then make 100% sure that it arrives on Friday.
4. Offer a collection option
The click-and-collect option of ordering online and collecting from a store is great, but you don’t have to do that (and won’t be able to if you don’t have a physical store). Instead, you can allow a customer to collect an item from your warehouse if needed, or use a business that’s open 24/7 as a drop-off point.
Why do you need all these options? Because not one of them can compete with the big retailers. You won’t be able to deliver faster than Amazon, or at lower cost than AliExpress, but you can offer a similarly-wide range of options. That’s not all you need to do, though. Presentation also matters — as we’ll see next.
The importance of clarity at all times
Let’s suppose that you have an excellent range of shipping options ready to go. You’ve finalized your fulfilment model, run all the calculations, and figured out what you can realistically achieve on a consistent basis. That’s great, but it’s not enough, because you also need to present those options with clarity.
Think about your average ecommerce customer arriving at your website and venturing down the road to converting. They’ll appreciate having shipping options, but only if they can see and understand them.
I won’t name any names, but I’ve been on retail sites that seem wholly uninterested in clearly stating what kinds of shipping they provide, which couriers they use, what they can guarantee, what buyers can get in terms of support, etc.
So a store that wants to keep its customers happy must provide plenty of information right up to the point of conversion and beyond. At the checkout stage, there should be prominent reminders of what the buyer can expect, and afterwards, there should be a clear indication of what comes next.
How can they track their order? What can they do if it doesn’t arrive when it’s supposed to? Can they alter their shipping choice before the product is sent? You don’t necessarily need to keep the reminders web-based either. Use email automation to engage and remind your customers too.
The customer service surrounding your shipping model is just as important as the shipping options when it comes to building customer loyalty. Great shipping can be undermined by lackluster communication, and mediocre shipping can leave the customer happy if you do a good enough job of keeping them updated.
Customers demand options and transparency
Ultimately, then, the ecommerce customer wants two things above all else when it comes to shipping:
1. A wide range of shipping options that will allow them to prioritize whatever matters most to them,
If your ecommerce store currently can’t achieve both of these things, you may need to change your courier and/or upgrade your shipping system. Get your shipping model right, and you’ll soon see your customer retention and loyalty moving in the right direction.
Patrick Foster is a writer and ecommerce expert for Ecommerce Tips. He’s not sure he could ever be a full-time seller because he’s hopeless with packaging. Stop by the blog for some online retail tips, and consider following along on Twitter @myecommercetips.