This is an exciting time to be in e-commerce. With the steady rise of online sales, it’s estimated that by 2019, 9.8% of U.S. retail sales will be transacted online – and the Canadian outlook is equally robust.
But this is also a challenging period, especially for independent merchants struggling to contend with big-box retailers that have also moved online.
To compete, e-commerce retailers will need to focus on their end-to-end order management processes like never before, seizing every opportunity to enhance customer experiences and build loyalty in an increasingly competitive environment.
Think like a customer. That means looking closely at all aspects of your value proposition and seeing what might be missing – particularly when it comes to the back end of your growing online store.
Where, for instance, does your online business rank when it comes to offering services like free shipping and returns, online order tracking, email and SMS status updates, alternative delivery options, and 24/7 support across multiple channels?
Not quite sure where you stand? Here's a useful self-assessment tool to help see how well your brand is performing in seven key areas, and how you compare to other top retailers.
Handling customer expectations: fast, free, and upfront
To win the loyalty of customers, you need an e-commerce solution that’s capable of delivering seamless and consistent experiences across all channels.
While the four P’s – product, price, promotion, and place – have served traditional marketers well, e-commerce retailers know the fifth P (package/parcel) is equally important.
Once customers come through that virtual door, you can’t afford to lose them. That’s why it’s so critical to provide superior experiences during the post purchasing process by optimizing your order fulfillment.
Just the facts please. By providing straightforward answers to pressing questions – When will my package arrive? How much will it cost to ship? Will I be able to return it? – you reduce the barriers to a successful transaction and build customer loyalty from the outset.
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If shipping costs, delivery options, and return/refund alternatives aren’t completely transparent and highlighted as early as possible in the customer journey, expect your site to be awash in abandoned carts.
Recently, the Baymard Institute looked at 33 different studies and found the average rate of shopping cart abandonment to be a staggering 69%, with many customers citing hidden or high delivery costs as their main reason for bailing.
Canada Post research bears this out: More than one in 10 sales is lost if shipping dates aren’t provided at checkout. What’s more, 67% of shoppers would be more inclined to buy high-value items when offered more delivery options.
Small changes to your checkout process can have a big effect on the conversion rate. Consider asking your visitors why they're about to abandon you with an unobtrusive exit survey that only pops up if they begin moving their cursor to leave your site.
Why free shipping still has to be affordable
One of the surest ways that you can increase volume at your online store is by offering free shipping – either as a bonus for buying a certain number of items or as a standard feature.
Shoppers are more likely to stick with you when they know that unexpected shipping costs won’t suddenly erase the value of that great deal and that they won’t get stuck paying to return something they don’t like.
Nothing is ever free. But free or even reduced rate shipping can kill your profit margins if you’re not careful. If you’re not yet ready to commit to a full free shipping model, experiment with different offerings on a smaller scale:
- Provide free shipping in exchange for contact information.
- Introduce free shipping earlier to speed up the buying process.
- Make free shipping available to first-time customers only.
- Encourage customers to share on social media in exchange for free shipping.
If you average out profits and costs over all of your sales, you may see that you can offset the costs associated with value-added services like free shipping and returns by only raising prices modestly across all lines of business.
Bringing shipping software into the mix
While most customers prefer their packages delivered to their home, there is a growing demand for alternate delivery venues. Buyers want options, and it’s important to provide them with the choices they need.
Forward thinking e-commerce retailers accomplish this with mobile technology that integrates with logistics software. By automating more of the fulfillment and shipping process, you can shorten delivery times and get your products into your customers’ hands faster.
Canada Post is pleased to collaborate with a wide variety of solution providers designed to make this happen. Companies like ShipStation and OrderCup can help simplify fulfillment by automating the printing of shipping labels, packing slips and customs forms, for instance.
With OrderCup, you can print Canada Post shipping labels in batch or one by one, automatically updating customer orders with shipping information while triggering tracking information emails at the same time.
Turn physical stores into fulfillment points. Large online sellers like Amazon and Walmart have shipping facilities around the country that let them ship orders from the nearest facility – which is often in the same metropolitan area as the customer – thus saving time and money.
With Shopatron, another respected Canada Post partner, smaller retailers can implement their own ship-from-store solution, integrating real-time store inventory and shipping to get products from where they are to where they’re needed more efficiently.
There are many steps between receiving an order and getting the product to the customer. If your business is growing quickly and you have the cash to outsource, now may be the time to explore third-party warehousing and fulfillment.
Integrating the entire package
To help retailers offer the shipping data and delivery experience their customers want, Canada Post works with today’s top e-commerce solutions companies, integrating its web services directly into their platforms.
WooCommerce, for instance, allows you to transform a WordPress-powered website or blog into an e-commerce business, or launch a stand-alone online store on the WordPress platform.
If you need a completely customizable online store, Magento is an elastic, open-source platform that lets you tailor any aspect of your e-commerce site, giving you an online store that looks, feels and works the way you want it to.
Seamlessly, customers can see shipping rates and expected delivery dates, or even route their packages to a specific post office. Retailers can also provide a tracking number, so customers can see where their package is in the delivery process. For more small business success stories, sign up for a physical copy of the upcoming issue of Delivering the Online World magazine. Download the latest issue of Delivering the Online World.