How to Create a Seamless Experience When Shipping to a Customer

*This post was adapted from the eTail Canada talk by Jordan Versluis, eCommerce Manager for Boathouse.*

Jordan Versluis has worn many hats in nearly 8 years with Boathouse. Starting in sales at the store level before working his way up internally to digital marketing and design, Jordan became the company’s second-ever eCommerce manager in 2012, a path that has given him a thorough understanding of Boathouse’s audience and objectives. He has spearheaded Boathouse’s transition to an omni-channel shopping destination, and under his watch, eCommerce sales have increased four-fold. Jordan is responsible for overseeing digital marketing and social media, website content and development, customer experience, and order fulfillment.

Throughout his time at Boathouse, Jordan has learned just how critical shipping can be when ending a customer’s shopping experience. Pulling from first hand experience Jordan set out to create a talk centred around “How to Create a Seamless Experience When Shipping to a Customer” and the best practices that each merchant should follow. This is a summary of his talk:

1. Be Versatile: Allow your customer to choose their own experience from a variety of options

Omni-Channel, it’s a hot topic these days. The whole idea behind Omni-Channel is that you’re not necessarily shipping in every case. Customers are given the choice of how they want their products delivered. Perhaps, they’d like to pick up their order in-store. This leads to the first point, do you even need to ship the order?

Do I need to ship in the first place?

Make sure you rule out in the first place that the customer even needs their order shipped to them. If a customer wants to look up inventory in-store, and therefore reserve in-store, then you don’t need to ship at all. Make sure you customer has options on your website (ie. ship to another store, ship to store, pick up in-store, ship to home, ship to post office etc). Give them a variety of choices to choose their own “destiny”! eCommerce is all about setting up a format for the customer to have a great experience. If they can’t do what they want to do, then they’ll probably get a bit aggravated, and decrease the likelihood of them buying or even returning. Especially with the expectations set forth by other retailers. For example, Best Buy, they have many different scenarios of fulfillment and pick up, their most popular being: reserve online and pick up in-store. Set positive expectations from the beginning with your customer!

Have a range of shipping options varying in speed and price

It’s critical for merchants to have a range of shipping options varying in speed and in price. One decreases when the other increases. If you have an expensive method of shipment, it will get there quicker. Although some customers don’t care how fast it ships, so they are going to spend less on shipping and fulfill whatever requirement (ie. spend more than $50) is necessary, to receive the free shipping offer. With that said, it’s always good to have options varying in speed and price. If you limit options for customers, it limits their experience.

Consolidated Shipping vs Partial Shipping

Some bigger retailers will let the customer choose whether or not they want a consolidated shipping or partial shipment. This is almost entirely dependent on shipping from stores, as well as utilizing inventory from different locations otherwise you preclude that from being necessary.

How do they compare? Consolidated shipping is cheaper for both the retailer and customer, but slower, where as partial shipments are obviously faster, but far more expensive for both the retailer and customer (since you’re shipping the order twice or more). It all comes down to personal preference. Some customers are fine with waiting to receive one package as opposed as broken up pieces. This of course can take longer than partials, but it’s at least it’s one consolidated piece.

What’s interesting about Boathouse is that their order management system has a logic to prefer a complete order. For example, if there is a store that has a complete order of what the customer wants, it would rather ship that. If it doesn’t have a complete order, it will break it down into the most completed versions of partials. Maybe 3 items of 4 are available at one store, and the other item is available somewhere else, so you would be only breaking it up into 2 shipments, rather than going haywire and trying to find it anywhere it could, and thus causing 3 or 4 partial shipments. There’s a cost associated to breaking out your partials (need to pay shipping cost repeatedly). It’s very much a logistic thing. You’d be paying the same shipping cost repeatedly (for more than one shipment), however the benefit of having it on the front end is that you’re customers are getting a quicker method of shipping which they’re willing to pay more money for, thus a better experience for them, and getting their orders faster to their door.

Best Practices:

    – Offer rates varying in price and speed
    – Offer reserve in store/ship to store
    – Offer split (time efficient) vs. consolidated (cost efficient) shipments

2. Be Transparent: Manage your customers’ expectations with clear shipping and return policies

Be Open and Flexible with your Policies

Many retailers have paragraphs of what they deem as a return. Exceptions are what make for a lengthy return policy, and discourages customers from shopping with you. Why?

A) They don’t want to read a massive document
B) If they’ve missed something what happens if they can’t return what they’ve bought?

Piece of advice: have a very open return policy. If you get to the size of retailer like Best Buy, by just accepting anything you’re opening up to the opportunity for a greater customer experience and you therefore won’t lose customers. The cost of returning that item, is that worth the retention of your customer? ABSOLUTELY! Considering that you’d probably be giving them up to the competition!

Be Clear with Fulfilment Times

Be VERY clear with your fulfilment times. Within how many days do you normally ship once it’s been ordered? Do you ship from multiple locations? Should customers expect multiple parcels? Within what time frame are you usually able to ship? What kinds of speeds of shipments do you offer? Customers should be able to look up and inquire about this kind of information before they even go through the checkout page. For example, some customers could go to your shipping information page, and see “do you ship to my province?”, “is it free?”, “will it get to me in 3 days?”. This could make or break their decision to shop with you.

Keep your shipping and return policies very concise and to the point. Have policies as well as content that are very clear to the customer. Don’t leave basic questions unanswered! If you’re misleading in any of your verbiage, then you’re not doing a good job, and will fail at retaining customers.

Best Practices:

    – Present your policies concisely
    – Offer free shipping
    – Offer free returns

3. Be communicable: Inform your customer of what’s happening before they ask

Continue to communicate with the customer after the parcel has been shipped

When you ship, it is the one point when you lose contact/control with your customer. You could technically stop all communication and then your customer will magically get a package a few days later. That is the worst case scenario, and actually is what use to happen 7-8 years ago in eCommerce. When you would buy something online and it shipped, you would get a message that said “you should expect your parcel in 7-10 days”, then you would wait and one day it just shows up in a mysterious brown package, you open it up and just hope that it is what it’s suppose to be.

Best case scenario: you have clear shipping options, shipment notification emails when your item has been shipped, and tracking numbers where you can track major travel points/destinations of your parcel. If you’re being clear on where your package is, what’s happening with it, customers can make reactive decisions on what’s going on with it (ie. if they’re not going to be home when it is expected to be delivered, they can call ahead and let them know what to do with it). This of course does not exclude sending your customer information about their order when things go wrong. Finding an issue after checkout, a hard time getting a specific SKU, or perhaps you need to get in touch with your customer to say a product isn’t available right now. Things that let them know what is happening before they open up a package and see an item is missing and they have to ask.

The general best practice is to let your customer know everything that is going to change from what they expect before they ask you what happened. If something isn’t going to arrive on time, let them know! If something isn’t going to arrive at all, tell them ahead of time. If you have another option to suggest to them, don’t just assume, don’t let them figure it out on their own, tell them ahead of time! This way, you’re managing their expectations. You’re giving them a point to work with you, they’re not yelling at you to come up with an amicable solution to the problem. Guaranteed if you’re proactive in calling your customer, they tend to be more understanding because you’ve taken your time to call and let them know rather than them getting on the phone to call you out on your errors. This also includes order cancellations, status changes etc – any status change, order change, or tracking change, let your customer know! Make sure the customer is well aware of all updates/changes/potential issues!

Best Practices:

    – Communicate any/all status changes (shipment, cancelation, etc.)
    – Contact appropriately based on the scenario
    – Utilize customer service to address any problems

4. Be Reliable: Ship to your customer quickly and dependably

Choose the right Shipping Carrier

Not every shipping carrier is suitable for everyone! Knowing what to expect from your carriers, depending on the type of business you have (ie. B2C vs B2B), and the services they offer is critical for your success.

Making sure you choose the right carrier based on your needs and the customer needs is very important. You have to be able to depend on your carrier. You are one with them. The majority of the customers out there don’t distinguish between who makes errors. The carrier and merchant are the same for the customer. If something is not delivered, or delivered incorrectly, the blame usually falls on the merchant, when technically it could have been the carrier’s fault.

Best Practices

    – Choose a courier that meets your (and therfore your customer’s) needs

5. Be Implicit: Give your customers incentive to visit and shop with you again

Pack items that are relevant to your Brick and Mortar

Make sure you pack things in your parcel that are relevant to your BNM (Brick and Mortar). For example, if you have promotions that are currently going on in your store(s), upcoming events, next season’s look book, or even a coupon that they can redeem in-store or online, give them a reason to come back! You can also pack in things that are packed in-store, like exclusive offers, samples, up-sells, cross-sells, gift with purchases etc. Anything that your customer would essentially walk away with in their bag if they bought from your BNM, bring that same experience to eCommerce. You should also pack a customer care/customer service card, ie. “this order was packed by _____”. Hand written notes are a nice touch. It helps to bring a human element to it, and the packers become more responsible, and accountable for the orders they pack. Then on the flip side of that card have a return policy/free shipping/customer service info. Something along the lines of “visit us, call us here”, something super simple. The information needs to be very accessible to customers.

This is when having clear and easy policies in place becomes instrumental. Think about it, when someone goes to a website they don’t want to sift through a bunch of information, they want to know where to find the relevant information quickly because they are probably in a panic that something is wrong with their order and want to get it resolved as fast as possible. If a customer knows that a retailer will guarantee to take back a product, no matter what goes wrong, the customer will be more likely to shop with you again. By making an effort as well as being flexible with these kinds of situations you’re helping to keep the customer happy. Happy customers = loyal customers.

Best Practices:

    – Offer items typically bagged in-store
    – Offer coupons, upcoming promotions, etc
    – Offer exclusive items

6. Be Recognizable: Deliver a parcel that your customer will identify with your brand

Deliver a pretty package

Boathouse use to deliver product in plain boxes. Now, their boxes are printed with logos. They also have a little spot to write the order number, and one for the way bill. Customers instantly know their package is from Boathouse when it’s delivered. Now that they’re shipping from store, they have poly bags that match the boxes as well. Even the whole theme of wood that you can see on their site, www.boathousestores.com, has been transferred to their physical store, so offline and online are all thematically tied together. The reason being, that when you deliver a package that is instantly associable to your brand, it will create a memorable end to the shopping experience.

Boathouse Package

Best Practices:

    – Design your packaging with your brand’s logo
    – Design your packaging with your brand’s colour(s)

Branded Packages – does this increase the chance for theft?

Once something is branded people have a general sense that whatever is in that package can be of relatively high value, or of value to them. Boathouse hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in their “lost” packages. There’s always a small percentage of orders that is accounted as lost, regardless if the package is branded or not. Boathouse will put a trace on it, and sometimes Canada Post can put in a claim, and pay them back for it. 100% of the time, if Canada Post cannot prove that it was delivered or something happened to the package, Boathouse will replace it and send it again to the customer. It’s worth it to pay that little bit extra, to keep that customer happy and to keep retention high. Especially if there is the chance that it was in fact stolen, it was really anybody’s fault (ie. the merchant, carrier or customer). Boathouse is most concerned about helping people out and creating that “wow factor” when it comes to delivering their products.

Managing and Maintaining High Expectations

When you ship to your customer, they have high expectations, and they tend to get antsy very quickly. If you’re not on the ball to manage their expectations, and keep them informed about exactly what’s going on, even if you fulfill it within the necessary amount of time but you’re not communicating with them every step of the way, they can still get angry and not come back to you! Good bye customer. So because they’ve checked out on your website, it’s now entirely in your hands. You should already have a seamless process of communication happening when they are going through the checkout process, so you can’t let your contact stop once an order is ready to be shipped. Since everything happens behind the scenes, the customer doesn’t know there’s a different person fulfilling vs shipping vs delivering. Don’t stop communicating with your customer just because their order shipped. Make sure you’re upfront, and keep your customer in the loop of what’s happening!

7. Be Inquisitive: follow up with your customer for insight

Ask for Feedback

Ask your customers for feedback, regularly. Ask them if they are satisfied via email, surveys, cold calls, reviews etc. Find out if they are happy with what they received. It adds a personal element to it. As everybody knows, unhappy customers are not hesitant to share their feedback and tell you very honest opinions. You can get very valuable feedback from your customer base. This can help your improve not only your customer experience but overall business practices as well.

Best Practices:

    – Include a customer service card to address potential concerns
    – Call your customers to inquire their level of satisfaction

Create Seamless Experiences for your Customer

Shipping is where you have the least control – it’s one of the biggest frustration for merchants. Control should be emulated by all merchants. It’s still your mandate that the customer is satisfied even if you’re not the one physically delivering their package, so if anything goes wrong you need to fix whatever happens.

Creating a seamless experience when shipping to a consumer is possible when you provide fulfillment options with concise information to abate concerns and begin the end of their purchase experience with confidence. At the time of fulfillment, be consistent in your communication of tracking information and changes to order status while ensuring prompt and reliable delivery of the customer’s parcel. Improve the aesthetics and contents of your packaging with recognizable branding and incentive to shop again. Lastly, follow up to address customers’ concerns and gain insightful feedback regarding their experience.

How can this be done?

    – Develop or revise clear shipping methods and policies to manage your customer’s exceptions
    – Ensure prompt delivery with your courier and communicate status changes to your customer
    – Deliver a recognizable package with included shopping incentive and methods of follow-up