It's no secret that customer satisfaction will make or break retailers' bottom line quicker than almost anything else. News travels fast, especially when consumers begin to see patterns emerge with the quality, fulfillment and overall experience of ordering online. Customers receiving the wrong item, damaged items or waiting too long on deliveries are sure-fire ways to deter the average customer.
Poor order fulfillment results in lost customers, decreased sales, and negative customer reviews. With so many options for consumers to buy from, no retailer can afford to let any part of their customer's order fulfillment experience slide. So what does great eCommerce fulfillment entail and what can retailers do to ensure that customers have a superior experience? Let's take a look at some proven strategies.
It's important to understand multifaceted order fulfillment if we are going to maximize improvements. The basic areas to be concerned with are: receiving and storing inventory, packing, shipping, quality control, customer service, and processing returns. While there is important activity on the back end, customers tend to fixate on a few key areas, like: shipping cost, shipping speed, tracking availability, order accuracy, and ease of returns. We will focus on these areas that affect customers most directly.
We can address several of these key areas with one particularly effective strategy: increasing distribution centers. Spreading inventory out over several locations provides protection of assets should any type of disaster strike near a fulfillment center. As the old adage says, "Don't keep all your eggs in one basket!" Additionally, shipping costs and speeds are reduced with strategically-placed fulfillment centers, killing two birds with one stone.
Reducing the number of carrier zones that shipments must pass through yields great rewards, and is especially profitable for larger, heavier products. Of course, shorter transits (and shorter delivery time) makes for happier customers. Anything over two-day shipping is considered slow, so brands who want to gain the edge must do what it takes to make shipping faster. According to National Retail Confederation, "Thirty-nine percent of consumers expect free two-day shipping and 29% of them will back out of a purchase if it is not offered". Read pertinent information on multiple facility shipping models here.
The standard has changed when it comes to customers having the ability to track their orders. With increased competition and faster shipping expectations than ever, customers want you to deliver tracking information to them quickly and often. If there is an update on their order status, they want to know about it. Brands that want to deliver an exceptional customer experience will be sending timely order notifications to their customers, updating them on every step of their package's journey. Thankfully, once set up, much of the order tracking can be automated and for the most part, runs itself.
Consumers don't like to be left waiting, but they especially don't like waiting on an order only to be told that it is no longer available or to receive the wrong item. It's absolutely imperative to avoid this mistake at all costs. This starts with having accurate information on inventory. It's a good idea to set a threshold at which brands are alerted that inventory has fallen below this mark. Automatic reorder on popular items is also a step that can be taken to save time. Additionally, improving accuracy in regards to inventory is vital to avoiding misshipments.
Read more about other ways to improve the customer experience here.
Returns happen, and when they do, you can bet the customer is paying attention to how they are handled. This is a great opportunity to make a lasting impression. While customers do not want to go through the hassle of making a return, they are quick to notice (and remember) a brand that will go the extra mile to make things right. Of course, it starts will a stellar return policy that doesn't require anything time-intensive for the customer. When these policies are well defined and communicated, it also makes returns more efficient for retailers. Processing returns should be straightforward and easy, and never underestimate the power of a friendly interaction throughout the return process.
Brands often reach a point where dealing with fulfillment becomes too demanding, which can become a vacuum for energy that should go toward other key areas of focus. Whether it's because picking and packing are consuming too much time, or staff is spread too thin with the headaches of managing inventory, there are many reasons to consider third-party fulfillment. The advantages of utilizing this strategy go beyond just taking the load off of the shoulders of retailers, it also can increase capacity for growth and scalability. This strategy is particularly helpful for merchants whose order volume spikes during peak seasons or product launches.
Check out this article to understand more about what to consider when implementing third-party fulfillment.
While order fulfillment can seem overwhelming for retailers doing it all themselves, it helps to focus on key areas. Making changes that directly impact customer experience is the best way to get the most out of your fulfillment strategy. By streamlining the nuts and bolts of fulfillment, brands can ensure that business runs smoothly and are well prepared for sustainable growth. Online retailers must not forget order fulfillment is a key component of a positive customer experience and satisfied customers become repeat customers. Investing in great order fulfillment is well worth the investment to overcome immediate customer satisfaction issues and support a long-term customer satisfaction strategy.