By Matthew Robertson, Co-CEO, NetDespatch.
As we head towards Black Friday, retailers are once again fully focussed on what will be the biggest UK shopping period of the year. With analysts predicting that consumers will spend in excess of £7 billion over Black Friday week in 2017, retailers can be forgiven for adopting a 'stack 'em high and ship 'em fast' mentality, in a bid to cash in.
With this in mind, a large majority of online retailers will have centred their Black Friday strategy around delivery. Having learnt valuable lessons from previous peak shopping periods retailers this year are all too aware that offering major reductions on goods on just one peak day can lead to logistical nightmares when attempting to ship these products to customers. So instead of taking that approach, they will have stretched these offers over the entire week in order to lessen the logistical burden that can all too often hamper delivery.
They will also have thought long and hard about the delivery options that they offer to their customers. They will be aware that once an online shopper has filled their virtual basket with goods, the decision to actually go ahead and click the 'buy' button can come down to the delivery options that a retailer offers. This can relate to speed of delivery, i.e. same day, next day and in some cases even 30 minute delivery options, which are increasingly becoming the norm.
They will be aware that the purchase decision can also come down to the delivery locations on offer. Long gone are the days when a consumer would be happy to stay at home and wait for their delivery to be dropped off by the carrier. No, now the customer expects options inclusive of click and collect, deliver to work, deliver to lockers and in some cases retailers such as Amazon have even gone that extra mile and trialled delivery straight into the boots of customers cars.
Retailers, now fully versed with regards to the plethora of delivery locations and timescales that consumers now demand, will have already streamlined their teams, in a bid to ease the enormous stress that can befit their fulfilment and operations staff. They will be aware that their inventory now needs to distribute goods almost immediately after a purchase has been confirmed and so will have boosted the size of these teams and conducted stress tests throughout the year, to ensure that they are adequately prepared, moreover, they will have ensured that their preferred carriers are also aware of predicted volumes.
But what about returns?
However, in a day and age where consumers expect a seamless customer experience throughout the entirety of the purchase journey, simply focussing on delivery is not enough, retailers must also ensure that the returns process is as easy as the initial purchase.
The immediacy of online retailing, where you can buy whatever you want whenever you want, to be delivered at a time and place convenient to you has great appeal, but so does being able to return any unwanted item just as easily.
I read an article recently which stated that 30% of clothing items are sent back and I'd hazard a guess that during peak period that percentage rises ever higher with online shoppers being almost encouraged to use the online channel as a fitting room where they can essentially 'try before they buy'.
At NetDespatch, we have a long history of working in the parcel delivery market, and recently we have seen increased interest from our customers (both retailers and carriers) in managed returns. This is because managed returns make it easy to automate and complete returns quickly. Whether that means allowing consumers to print return labels directly from retailers' websites, make online requests for returns collections, or increasing the visibility of the progress of the return from collection to its arrival back at the retailer, what this effectively does is put the returns process back in the hands of the consumer and makes the whole process much more seamless.
Having conducted numerous research projects into the returns process, most notably our 'Many Happy Returns' survey, NetDespatch has identified three ways in which retailers and carriers can improve their returns processes and make the online shopping and returns experience more appealing to consumers.
Work together to educate consumers on returns options
Our research found that many consumers simply aren't using the new, convenient and innovative measures that retailers and carriers are putting in place to make returning items easier. In fact, our research found that only 8% of consumers used a 'collect from work' returns option, and only 5.5% used a locker box. Nearly half still preferred to wait at home, which is not only time-consuming for the consumer, but it is expensive and time-consuming for both the retailer and the carrier. Educating consumers on these additional methods of returning items could save time for the shopper (by simply returning a parcel in store on their way home from work) and the carrier (collecting multiple parcels from one store).
Implement a seamless IT solution
Putting into place a system that manages the returns process in an automated and hassle-free way can benefit both the retailer and carrier. The retailer can eliminate unnecessary manual processes by connecting your warehouse systems to your postal or parcel carriers, and carriers benefit by enabling customers to produce labels, manifests and electronic pre-advice using automated IT solutions, saving on man hours that can be dedicated to running the business.
Be transparent with your consumers
With the returns market growing and returns options becoming more varied, consumers are looking for more transparency and speed. For example, when returning an item, we found in our research that 53% of respondents expect to be refunded within 24-48 hours, whilst 47% expect to be able to track their returns. By increasing transparency, by using processes such as 'tracked returns' options, consumers can clearly see where their returned parcel is, which in turn gives them the awareness of when to expect a refund in their bank account. This type of system also gives the retailer sight of where the parcel is in the system, and they can prepare for that parcel coming back to the warehouse.
People expect a quick service, particularly around peak shopping periods, primarily because they are seen as time-sensitive. Although delivery will always be the main priority at these times, returns will also have an influence as to whether someone makes a purchase with you. How easy is it to return? Is there an extended returns period over the Black Friday week? Can you return to the store? Can you get a gift receipt? Will it cost to return? Shoppers will be expecting to have all of these answers readily available in order to make a quick and informed decision or purchase this Black Friday.