While the pandemic closed retail stores, it also forced a colossal surge in online sales. What’s more, with no commute to work, and being unable to go out, socialise or go on holiday, many consumers had surplus money to spend online. So, innovative retailers embraced the challenge, and consumers basked in greater choice, easy ordering and faster deliveries.
But two years on, retailers now face a host of new challenges. For example, is increasing the speed of delivery still a realistic aspiration? How do retailers improve on the already ‘best online shopping experience’?
Here we look at five ways retailers can stay innovative post-pandemic and overcome the growing list of supply chain challenges.
1. Set up new partnership ventures
Whether you’ve exhausted all your own unique selling points, are looking to enter new markets, or simply don’t have the resources to fulfil every aspect of the sales process, joining forces with industry experts and organisations will allow for much greater potential and maximise your expertise across the multiple channels eCommerce exists in.
Retail and software partnerships come in many guises.
For example, many retailers use eCommerce platforms to process and ship orders successfully. These platforms support various integrations of software applications from flexible payment options (shop now pay later), order and warehouse management, PIM (product information management), and ERP (enterprise resource planning).
It is partnerships like these that drive a successful eCommerce business.
Back on the high street
Retail partnerships, such as Stores-within-Stores, give you a physical presence on the high street to complement your online offer. MusicMagpie teamed up with Asda back in August 2020 to enable customers to buy and sell second-hand smartphones and other tech online or in-store. The same goes for Sainsbury’s. You’ll now find Argos stores present in most Sainsbury’s Superstores – where you can also buy Habitat home furnishings! A simple multi-product, multi-channel win!
Partnerships don’t stop at retail; it goes beyond that into warehouse and logistics as well. River Island, for example, recently began a partnership with e-fulfilment, and 3PL supply chain company Clipper to provide logistics and transport services.
The partnership sees Clipper delivering a range of operations, including warehousing, distribution to high street stores and e-fulfilment services, at River Island’s distribution centre in Milton Keynes.
2. Make it easier for customers to buy your products online
Not all online customers are as tech-savvy as millennials and Gen Z.
Optimising your online store for everyone is critical, even for the older generation, who now account for more than half of the online shoppers (ONS), have started to adapt to the change and become more technologically savvy.
The over 65s have embraced online shopping, spending around £320bn a year in the UK on everything from groceries to furniture. And with a growing ageing population, retailers should stay smart and make their websites as accessible as possible.
And with a growing ageing population, retailers should stay smart and make their websites as accessible as possible. Blend Commerce, a specialist online customer experience agency suggests implementing these 5 easy tips to your site to be more accessible to everyone:
Ensure the text on your website is optimised for those who may have visual impairments.
This means high contrast in the colour of the text versus the website background, as well as the font being easy on the eyes (sans serif as an example) with a minimum size of 12. This can be applied to imagery as well, implementing bright colours and clear images.
Make your website stand out with keyboard support for those with motor disabilities.
Users who do not or cannot access a mouse will need keyboard support to navigate your website, Monsido offers some excellent options.
Ensure you have alt-tags filled in across your images and graphics.
Alt-tags assist those who have heavy visual impairment as they may use screen readers to navigate the web. Here’s a simple guide on how to do this.
Keep your copy clear with short sentences and spaces to increase readability.
Easy to read text on your site not only looks better, but it also assists those with cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia as they may struggle with overly complex sentences.
Ensure online forms are accessible and inclusive to everyone.
Completing a form such as a delivery or return address, and customer contact information should be clear and easy to follow. Blend suggests making your online form easy and simple to follow for everyone.
Web Accessibility Initiative has an informative guide on this.
There are many reasons why consumers don’t complete a purchase at checkout. Some of the common reasons are hidden delivery costs and poor delivery or returns solutions, it’s no surprise after a recent FedEx report that states a staggering 86% of shoppers check a retailer’s return policy before placing an order, while 56% have abandoned at checkout due to poor returns.
That is why navigation and the general online shopping experience should be intuitive. Make it clear how to move from selecting products, finding out more information, placing an order and paying for it. With an average cart abandonment rate of 80% across all digital retail channels, you need to make sure your payment process is simple and reliable.
And on that subject, regardless of your customers’ demographics, it’s vital you offer a range of secure payment options.
The Boku 2021 Mobile Wallets report states that contactless mobile wallet payments in stores exceeded cash and card payments for the first time in 2020. It predicts contactless will account for 1 in 3 transactions by 2024.
Research from fintech company Klarna says UK shoppers are looking to integrate new technologies, especially in the realm of flexible payments. Around half of shoppers are looking to save time standing in line or filling out lengthy checkout forms.
Using the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File is an easy way to help your customers populate address fields without having to manually type them in. It also helps reduce addressing errors.
The same research by Boku said consumers believe frictionless payments both in-store (48%) and online (46%) should be a top priority for retailers.
If you’re not yet offering the likes of Apple Pay or Google Pay on your site, ask yourself why not?
Other areas of online shopping concern include customer authorisation for internet payments. New ‘strong customer authentication’ (SCA) rules mean that anyone buying goods online might need to verify the transaction before their payment is approved. Considering 78% of UK eCommerce transactions are impulse buys (Finder), any distraction in the transaction will give the consumer time to rethink the purchase, it, therefore, adds another layer of complexity for retailers to adapt to.
The key here is to be ahead of the change. Don’t let these small, (but equally important) security measures for online shopping halt your online sales.
One solution is biometric identification.
Biometric identification can be used to validate shoppers’ identities when using their debit or credit cards to make online purchases. Examples to confirm identification could be shoppers’ fingerprints, facial scans, and gait analysis among others.
Trust Stamp are among some of the most popular used security solutions for retailers.
3. Revisit your choice of carrier
You might have the right products and an easy ordering and checkout system but if your choice of carrier isn’t up to scratch, you run the risk of losing customer loyalty, reputation and sales.
Choosing the right carrier isn’t just about delivery vans. Once an order has left your warehouse, you’re at the mercy of a third party aligning with your brand and your customers’ preferences.
Multiple carrier systems
Does your carrier meet tight delivery deadlines? Can it ship to home, store or locker? Does it offer real-time tracking? How about international deliveries? Or during peak periods when your volume of orders quadruples?
Using a delivery management platform such as Intersoft’s Intelligent Shipper® can alleviate some of these challenges.
Carrier management systems give you access to multiple carriers, usually through one API (such as Intersoft’s) so you have a choice over order fulfilment, speed of delivery, geographic location, volume of parcels, cost of shipment or the range of last-mile delivery methods without having to lift a finger or hire developers to do it for you.
When sourcing your carrier of choice, consider these 6 steps:
How good are your carriers in meeting their delivery standards and, ultimately, your promise to your customers?
Are your customers mainly in towns and cities or hard to reach rural locations? Are they mainly domestic or international?
What convenient delivery methods do you offer? Do you provide good tracking and in-flight communications? How flexible are your systems? Can you adapt quickly to changing needs?
Are delivery rates all they seem? Do they include hidden costs such as insurance, customs taxes and other surcharges?
Does your eCommerce platform integrate easily with your carrier’s systems? Can it provide insights into shipped orders vs not shipped, and what about tracking and notifications?
Does your carrier offer any green delivery options? According to a recent study (IPC Cross-Border E-Commerce Shopper Survey), 44% of consumers are adapting their shopping behaviours due to sustainability concerns, while 49% say they would prefer their cross-border parcels to be carbon-neutral. Consider sustainable shipping as part of your business model.
Above all, ensure you have a service level agreement in place. It should clearly set out the service conditions you’ve agreed to and what happens if these agreements aren’t met.
4. Invest in the last mile experience
The ‘last-mile’ has less to do with the physical delivery of a parcel and more to do with communication and service.
We know how infuriating it is to receive a ‘sorry we couldn’t deliver your item’ message when we literally popped out for a moment or, worse still, were in but didn’t get to the door on time.
Equally maddening is the message saying our goods have been successfully delivered, only to find they’ve gone to a neighbouring house or office block, or receiving a luxury product delivered in cheap, crumpled or damaged packaging.
The last mile experience is your chance to show customers how much their business means to you, it is an extension of your brand.
So, consider some of the following ways to achieve this:
Cost and speed
Give customers options. A monthly order of cat litter can probably wait a day or two if it means free delivery. But we’d happily pay a premium price for a speedy delivering of a cashmere sweater because we missed Mum’s birthday.
Luxury brands need an equally premium delivery service. That could be anything from frequent in-flight communications advising delivery status to top quality packaging and uniformed drivers.
Messages such as ‘your order has been dispatched’, ‘your order is on its way’ and the all-important estimated delivery time notifications ‘your order will be delivered between 9.00am and 10.00am’ really help to build customer loyalty. Plus, customers are more likely to accept a delayed or late delivery if they receive a message in advance apologising for that delay.
The more options you give your customers, the more likely they are to be a return customer. As well as speed and cost, at checkout include options such as click and collect in-store; deliver to lockers, neighbours, safe places, shops or post offices; and leave in secure parcel boxes at the doorstep.
Return portals and platforms
Customers are more likely to buy goods if they know they can return them easily and, ideally, free of charge. Invest in a branded portal where customers can select a returns option, including paperless labels.
5. Support the plastic tax and switch to sustainable packaging
According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, packaging accounts for nearly 70% of plastic waste in the UK. A new tax came into force on 1 April 2022 to encourage businesses to reduce single-use plastics.
Businesses that manufacture or import 10 or more tonnes of plastic packaging within a 12 month period might need to register for the tax. They will then need to pay £200 per tonne on plastic packaging components that contain less than 30% recycled plastic.
Sustainability has become a powerful talking point in business and in our daily lives. More than two-thirds of UK consumers say they will buy more high-quality items that last longer, while 88% now consider recycling part of their everyday lives, adapting to less plastic in your packaging is a key opportunity within your business strategy.
While zero packaging is unrealistic, aim to use more paper-based products or recycled plastics. You could also include a polite note to customers asking them to reuse or recycle the packaging. Meal subscription service company Gousto do this very well, check out how they’ve been able to stay innovative in their packaging here.
Priory Direct, a leading UK supplier of packaging and environmentally conscious offer a range of recyclable and packaging options, sustainability is at the heart of everything they do, partnering with equally minded suppliers in fulfilment is a fantastic opportunity, and don’t forget to embrace this throughout all your brand messaging, 81% of consumers favour brands with a commitment to environmental sustainability.