The importance of high delivery standards for e-commerce businesses

Paul Galpin, managing director of distribution company P2P Mailing, outlines why efficient order fulfilment is so important for e-commerce operators.

By 2016, the Internet economy will be worth $4.2 trillion in the G-20 economies. Despite a continually stagnant economic climate, the ecommerce market is increasingly competitive. In a growing market, customer retention is more important than ever. But while most e-tailers understand the importance of effective marketing, and offering an impressive product through an attractive website, an often overlooked aspect of online shopping is order fulfilment.

To gain insight into UK consumer attitudes towards order fulfilment in online shopping, independent research specialist Mindmetre polled a sample of 2000 UK consumers. The survey revealed that 87 per cent of respondents would switch to another supplier if they experienced delivery problems twice or more.

In the internet age, consumers have more power than ever before and switching suppliers can be as easy as a click of the mouse. Clearly, no matter how compelling the product, failure to deliver it as promised will give your competitors an opening.

The mass uptake of e-commerce in the UK is down to the efficiency online shopping can potentially offer, but when problems with an order occur – and shopping online becomes more difficult than shopping on the high street – consumers will not hesitate to make their purchases elsewhere.

The research also finds that almost two thirds (65 per cent) of consumers consider poor delivery standards to be the worst thing that can go wrong with online shopping. So, regardless of how simple the ordering process has been before the point of delivery, customers are clearly reserving their judgement until the goods have been received.

The very process of buying online requires the consumer to display a great deal more trust in the retailer than is necessary when shopping on the high street. In an online transaction, the money is exchanged before the goods are in hand. To break that trust with flawed delivery is regarded as totally unacceptable. However, despite what many retailers believe, offering an appealing delivery service does not need to be complex.

As an earlier P2P Mailing research report revealed, premium delivery options are actually far less popular than imagined; most UK e-commerce shoppers actually prefer standard delivery when given a choice. The research finds that 86 per cent of consumers would select standard delivery when purchasing goods for themselves online. This is despite many retailers feeling they need to offer next-day delivery, track and trace, or other premium delivery options in order to remain competitive.

While an appealing, intuitive website may attract custom, it is a robust and failsafe order fulfilment service that will encourage customers to return. Retailers operating from outside of the UK also need to apply this method of thinking in order to attract and retain customers.

The recent research report highlights widespread hesitation amongst British consumers to purchase from international retailers, with 61 per cent of those polled saying they are reluctant to buy from overseas online shopping websites. Consumers feel that any problems with delivery and service are only going to be exacerbated if the retail company is situated abroad. This presents a real challenge for businesses wishing to cater for the international marketplace.

The rewards to be gained from getting the fulfilment process right are also clear. The majority of respondents (87 per cent) say a set of consistently good online shopping experiences – from order to delivery – would encourage them to do an increased amount of shopping online. The challenge for online retailers is to achieve this end-to-end service with every order. But with 21 per cent of consumers saying that more than one in ten of their online shopping experiences are let down by something going wrong, current standards are clearly falling short of this ideal.

Those getting it right can certainly steal a march on competitors. If international delivery is an option, businesses must clearly state their delivery terms and ensure the processes are in place to meet expectations. Customer testimonials displayed on the website can help – short quotes from satisfied consumers could dispel any doubts and concerns potential new customers may have. But only consistently excellent service and fulfilment will completely dispel any doubts, and promote customer loyalty.

The survey results could not be clearer. Get online shopping delivery wrong, and your business will suffer as a result. Just two mistakes can be enough to persuade a customer to defect to a competitor. And these errors are not happening in isolation; nearly a quarter of the UK’s online shopping population experience order difficulties over 10 per cent of the time.

With online shopping set for continued, healthy growth in the UK, it is those businesses that pay close attention to order fulfilment that stand to benefit most from this still buoyant market. The savviest businesses are seeking the advice of expert providers who have the knowledge and the technology to manage the entire order processing and delivery function. Those slow to address delivery standards will quickly find themselves left behind.

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