As online retailers wrap up the hectic holiday season, they should invest time in evaluating what worked well about their holiday shipping policies as well as determining what changes they need to make in order to provide a smoother and more seamless customer experience going forward.
Today’s tech-savvy customers expect a lot from online retailers and marketing giants such as Amazon have not only mastered the art of fast shipping, they set a high bar for other online businesses to match.
Fortunately, online retailers can learn from the mistakes of others in order to avoid duplicating those mistakes in their own business.
When re-evaluating shipping policies for future success, keep the following six tips in mind to keep your best customers returning to your site year after year.
Long-Term Business Benefits of Investing in Good Holiday Shipping
1. Post Shipping Details Prominently
Nothing aggravates customers more than waiting for a FedEx knock at the door only to go back to their retailer, track their item and discover they may not receive their order for several more days. This rings particularly true during the holidays when many customers shop with a hard deadline of December 25th.
Pay careful attention to the final holiday mailing dates published by major carriers USPS, UPS and FedEx. To ensure customer satisfaction, retailers should set their own final order-by deadlines to the day prior to the last shipping date per package type to allow for variations in time zones, etc.
In addition to keeping carrier deadlines at the forefront, retailers should post final order-by dates for various items prominently on their web pages.
A banner headline at the top of each site page forces customers to pay attention to shipping deadlines. Specialty items such as personalized wares which require additional preparation should list the last order-by date prominently on the ordering page for that item.
2. Think Flat Rate
Retailers who often ship bulky items can save an enormous amount in shipping costs by exploring flat-rate shipping options for items like furniture, cat trees and other large purchases. Be aware that flat-rate shipping may take a few extra days, so retailers should set final order-by dates clearly.
In addition, signature options ensure that a responsible party received particularly expensive items as these cause the greatest customer frustration when they are not received as expected.
Many retailers require signature upon delivery for items valued at greater than $500. Requiring a signature provides a handy way to ensure the dearest items arrive in the customer’s hands.
3. Offer Varied Carriers
All online retailers do well to explore all possible shipping options, including major carriers such as FedEx and UPS and also more start-up innovations such as UberRush. This provides customers with a wide range of shipping options at various price points and gives them the freedom to select the carrier they feel most comfortable with.
In addition, many areas now provide pick up services at various UPS and USPS locations where customers can go to pick up their ordered goods versus having them dropped on their doorstep.
Not only can this result in packages reaching customers more quickly, it gives your valued clients the peace of mind that comes with knowing their holiday gifts won’t be swiped off their porch before they return home from work.
4. Add Free Shipping Subscription Services
Today’s customers expect free shipping, but that doesn’t mean that retailers need to eat all the costs of providing such a service. Savvy online sellers do well to take a hint from retail giant Amazon and add a subscription service to their site where customers pay a one-time annual fee to enjoy free shipping all year round.
Currently Amazon Prime members spend just over $100 per year for free two day shipping privileges on Prime products. Depending on the size of an individual retailer’s market, they may price their own subscription services for much less, especially if they predominantly sell specialty products not frequently reordered.
Another way to absorb costs includes marking up the price of retail items. Home furnishings giant Wayfair advertises their free shipping, but smart customers realize that their products cost a bit more to cover the price of providing this benefit.
5. Clarify Return Policy
In addition to posting last order-by dates, online retailers should inform customers about their return policies in a clear, forthright manner. Having to run to the post office and pay an additional fee to return non-conforming merchandise or simply a shirt two sizes too small frustrates customers enough to make them take their business elsewhere.
Avoid return mishaps by providing customers with prepaid mailing labels they can use to return goods. This need not come with the original packaging — printable labels sent to a customer’s email address by a customer service representative work just as effectively.
This way, the customer merely needs to label their package and leave it for their postal carrier to retrieve with no trip to the UPS store necessary.
6. Hire Top Notch Customer Service Agents
On a final note, a company’s customer service agents serve on the front lines of maintaining a positive image of a retailer’s business when dealing with order issues and returns.
While many companies seek to save money by selecting those willing to work for low wages for what can quickly become a stressful job, business owners do well by rewarding those agents who perform best with bonuses and raises.
Nearly everyone can name a business they will never patronize again due to poor, even surly, service. Avoid creating such scenarios with your customers — you want them coming back!
The Bottom Line
The options online retailers choose for shipping and returns greatly impact the business’ overall bottom line. Problems with shipping and returns lead dissatisfied customers to spend their money elsewhere — something no retailer wants. But by creating a clear, focused holiday shipping plan and taking measures to ensure customers satisfaction with shipping and returns, online retailers will enjoy repeat clientele who return year after year and who will refer their friends and family, too.
Author: Kate Haywood